Generating New Ideas
There's a lot of chatter on the interwebz about Mantic's new sci-fi wargame - 'Warpath.' All we have so far are some concept sketches and a tentative release date poised towards autumn. There's been a lot of conjecture about what this new contender in the tabletop gaming world may have to offer that isn't already on the Games Workshop 'menu.'
Most threads I've seen so far are degenerating into pointless back and forth bickering about the source of inspiration behind Mantic's release and how this might reflect their long term goals for the new miniatures range. Critics are quick to label Mantic's 'Orx' range as a flagrant derivative of GW's 'Orks' citing this as the reason Mantic will never truly rival GW's monolithic wargaming market presence.
This makes for a difficult discussion. Where and when did the Orc trope of a ramshackle, primitive but functional society of bloodlusting lunatics originate? Was it GW? Or Tolkien? Or some ancient Northern European mythos? The correct answer is "all of these" but it is also "none of these."
New can no longer be generated. Not if by "new" we mean "100% original with no derivative qualities." This is because as cultured and (sometimes) educated human beings we have countless thousands of influences affecting our daily thought patterns that deciphering what is generated within our mind from what is born outside of it is impossible.
This means that when 'ye olde storyteller sits down to write some new Intellectual Property - be a genre-crushing sci-fi epic or a C3 (Custom Chapter Codex) - he is invariably furnishing his narrative with the pieces of influence scattered around his more mundane everyday awareness. The protagonist's (or titular group in the instance of a C3) is "colored in" by the memories and character of his creator who is likewise shaped by his or her surroundings.
The influence can be small:
"Nolan fished through his pockets for the extra dime, muttering under his breath about how a cab ride down the street shouldn't cost an hour's pay. He unceremoniously hurled the loose change at the startled cab driver before ejecting himself from the still-moving vehicle. Tripping over some loose luggage on the sidewalk he sprinted into the station's entrance not even noticing the threatening looks from wary security personnel.
He had to find Elaine..."
Or it can be large:
"Tukishan csnapped the Hiyabusa into 4th gear coxing the engine past the 12,000 rpm mark and cranking the speed up to a suicidal 280 kilometers per hour. Abandoned vehicles and other detritus of the city's mass exodus left the highway littered with deathtraps - contact with anything at this speed would lead to a fatal deceleration - even if he miraculously survived the crash.
His rearview mirrors darkened and Tukishan nearly wet himself at the twin quivering images of the 200 foot wave closing in him. At its crest the Tsunami gripped a luxury yacht, sales flapping madly in the hurricane winds. Tukishan could imaging mother nature bringing that yacht down on him, a million tonnes of water crushing him instantly. His insides turned to jelly and he readjusted his grip on the throttle, feeding still more fuel to the engine..."
Dubious quality of the writing aside we can see how each instance of outside influence gives relevancy and authenticity to both accounts. It is easier to imagine a world where rising mundane expenses such as transportation have flushed us all into poverty. If you read the news a few months ago it's easy to imagine a ship catapulted onto dry land to disastrous effect.
Therefore brand new ideas are not simply difficult to generate - they may detract from the narrative in unpredictable ways:
"Dhfo sprinkled his thoughts into the star-chasm. Gesturing with bone horns and flesh cape he formed the thoughts into future memories planting them like gravity seeds in the cerebellum of his unwitting host."
Hmmm. Sure it might be cool to know what the hell a "star-chasm" is but the novelty of this idea immediately puts a kind of high "price tag" on the story wherein the currency cost is replaced with a demand in thoughts and effort.
So what's the solution?
The answer to how one generates fresh and captivating narrative is not by any means a new one. Even in the limitless realm of science fiction, good fiction is a precious, precious commodity. Once we've factored in the very personal needs and wants of the common enthusiasts a universal "new and good idea" becomes very ellusive indeed.
To answer this question for myself I would posit that a "new" idea (meaning a new and good idea) is the combination of two or more very stereotypical and time-resistant archetypes. An attack on space station by a planet-sized wll'o-the-wisp. Huitzilopotchli awakening in downtown Mexico city and demanding sacrifices. A giant minigun-toting Samurai.
Some of these combinations will take flight and others will float like lead balloons. Playing with these combinations is like playing the lottery. Chance of success is pretty low but... well... um.... J.K. Rowling.