FTI Writing for Games Course (Day 2)


In this session, we took the classic writing rule of “show, don’t tell, and reshaped it to apply to interactive game narrative, so it became “interact, don’t show.” The idea is that you should allow/encourage a player to interact with an object or scene to build an understanding of their world or circumstance, instead of spelling everything out with visuals and/or text. An example of a game that does this extremely well (in my opinion) is Gone Home. The player returns to their empty family home with little or no context of who they or their family members are. The whole game is about exploring the house and interacting with objects, such as photos, notes, audio recordings, personal effects etc, to uncover the family history and the game’s underlying narrative.

The question was then raised – how do you deliver exposition to players? Our presenter then explained lots of interesting ways games are explaining the “detail of what is going on” in the form of character diaries, audio recordings, historic documents, news stories (overheard), emails etc. Very cool.

We then went on to talk about meaningful choice in games, using Tell Tale’s the walking dead as a case study. Tell Tale Games base their games on episodic events and strong narrative that require choices rather than exploration or action.  In the Walking Dead, the player has to make many choices throughout the game, some being simple dialogue selection and some being meaningful choices (these have an impact on the player and sometimes AI). An example of a meaningful choice might be to save or to kill another character. This calls on the player to consider their own beliefs or attitudes in the game. We learned that meaningful choices are expensive and introduce risk during game development so a good narrative designers want to give players the illusion of meaningful choice.

Finally we discussed Generative narrative and authored vs systemic narrative. This prompted me to look up an old game called, Dwarf Fortress, which is touted as the most systematic immersive game ever created. Interesting stuff!

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Journey Review


Journey, produced by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for PS3 on March 13 2012

This beautifully unique and magically presented game tells its story without words, leaving awestruck players to develop their own theories for the purpose, lesson and conclusion of the journey. Here are my own:

I’ll cut to the chase; Journey is about life – all of it, simplified into 2-3 hours of tranquil, curious play. The subject is very topical for me at the moment as I am a new mother of a 9-month-old baby girl. Watching her grow and learn about herself and the world around her is an entertaining joy and so is Journey because it invokes a similar wonder and pleasure.

Puer (the name I’ve given our cloaked protagonist) is reincarnated from the stars to find himself with very little knowledge about his world (a windy, undulating desert) and limited ability to communicate or move around – just like a baby. The landscape is awe-inspiring and vast and Puer seems so small and insignificant. As he moves through his journey, he slowly gains skills and understanding; now he can have a bigger impact on the world around him. He meets and takes guidance from others who help him along the way (cloth creatures and spirits). He slowly grows and ages, although this is not visible of his character, it is the made apparent by the environment around him. Suddenly there are more complex problems to solve, histories to understand and a visual richness bringing to light detail that makes the mind wonder and guess at the past.

Puer’s scarf seems to represent knowledge and his life force. As he discovers and interacts with his world it grows in length and gives him power to move more easily through his environment. At the same time, the history of his world is slowly revealed. A once thriving population lived within a great city but the introduction of technology and eventual war caused the fall of the civilization. This history lesson is an important part of Journey. As Puer uncovers the past, he has aspirations for his future – knowledge is power, actions have consequences, be better than those before you. You feel a sadness at the loss of something once great and it drives you to want to ‘fix’ the world, but that is not the purpose of your Journey.

By the time Puer reaches the snow-covered mountain (the mother), he has aged substantially. His scarf is covered in frost, hindering his power to float and fly. It also represents the cloudiness in his knowledge – it is still there but it can’t be easily accessed. Puer’s movements are slow, impeded by powerful icy winds. Friends hover far away, high in the sky and are no longer much help. Some die around him, reminding him of his own dwindling mortality. Foes are lurking around every corner. The world has become a scary, difficult place.

Thankfully as he nears the end, Puer has a chance to be free of the shackles of age once more. He accepts his fate and returns to the source of all life – the mountain peak. Now he lives in his mind and is free of the burden of his body. He remembers the good times, his relationships and how far he has come. He finds peace and at that moment he is ready to die. As his soul is released from his body, it is returned to where it all began…

A cloaked being awakes in the dunes, ready to begin a new journey.

 

The game story gets 5/5 symbol stars. The fact that much of it is up for interpretation is a tribute to its intricate and personal subject – life.

The chapter that busts your metaphorical balls


As a writer you are bound to eventually produce a chapter, paragraph or even just a simple sentence that doesn’t sit well with you. You won’t be able to put your finger on exactly what is wrong with it, but it will be like nails on a chalkboard to read.

These diction ditches can be quite damaging to one’s inspiration and motivation to write. I recently found myself avoiding my third manuscript because I’d already spent two sessions the previous week tweaking a troublesome chapter, and I couldn’t stomach facing it again (I knew it still wasn’t right). After a day off, I talked myself into tackling it, but this time once and for all. Instead of trying to salvage all the hard work I’d put into the chapter to date, I deleted it. I just plain removed it from my manuscript and started again. It was the best decision I’d ever made. In one session, I’d rewritten the chapter and set up the next. I also had my inspiration back and I was keen to move the story forward.

So if you find your metaphorical writing-balls in a vice over pesky phraseology and consequently you are spending all your precious time trying to fix it (with little or no results), consider throwing it out the window. Sometime that is much easier than trying to make it work. You’ll get over the time lost once you re-read your awesome new chapter 🙂

 

A recipe for an epiphany


Since my worldly travels have ended, I’ve been somewhat void of life-altering inspiration. Unsurprisingly, sitting at my desk working from 9 until 5 hasn’t facilitated any mind-blowing revelations. However, recently I pieced together a magic combination of events/activities that got my brain tingling. I now realise, I’d prepared the ingredients, but I hadn’t thought to pop them in a baking dish and throw them in the oven.

Recipe for an Epiphany

1. Travel Somewhere : 1-6 Months. The more remote and out of your comfort zone the better.

2. Reflect and Relax : Minimum 1 month. While you travel, look at yourself, your thoughts and your behaviours. How are you different now you are not stuck in the daily grind?

3. Return Home : Try to assimilate again. If you have done step 1 and 2 correctly, this will be a difficult task. This is important so you can truly appreciate the difference between your travel life and your ‘home’ life.

4. Watch documentaries about people, the universe and science. Watch TED videos like these:

5. Share your thoughts : Find content that you think is interesting and controversial. Send a link to a friend who you know will disagree.

6. Debate : Have a good-ol fashioned debate with your friend/s. Let simmer until your mind is bubbling and hissing with ideas.

7. Repeat

 

How to upload a Word document – CreateSpace


I am just about to push the big red button and release my new book Heartless (the second book in the Ruthless Series). But before I got to this exciting ‘button-pushing stage’, I had a little hiccup with my new CreateSpace project (for those of you who don’t know, CreateSpace is the print publishing arm of Amazon).

Unfortunately, cocky me, chose Expert setup, and that meant that I could only upload a PDF as my interior file. I use a Mac and PDF generation in Mac Word is not very nice, so my preference was to upload a Word document instead. Sadness and confusion ensued.

Never fear, if you too were overly confident in your ability to use the CreateSpace interface – I eventually found it can be reversed without having to delete the whole project.

Just do this:

  1. From your Member Dashboard, click on the title of your book
  2. Within the Setup section, locate the Looking for Help box on the left-hand side of the screen
  3. Click “Switch Now” and confirm this change by clicking “Continue

If you are looking for a way to thank me for this wonderful work-around, feel free to purchase a copy of my first book Ruthless (ebook or print). By the time you are finished, the sequel will be ready! 🙂

Difficult Character Names


Have you ever read a book by a famous author and struggled to read one or more of the main character names? Below are just a few examples:

Daenerys Targaryen 1996 A Game of Thrones
Princess Mariya Bolkonskaya 1869 War and Peace
Piscine Molitor Patel 2002 Life of Pi
Thérèse Defarge 1854 A Tale of Two Cities
Zaphod Beeblebrox 1979 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Many of the above may be easy for you to pronounce in your head now, since their books have been made into film or TV series, but imagine trying to read “Daenerys Targaryen” without ever having heard the name said aloud.

Using such names for main characters is brave and a luxury afforded to already famous authors. As a new writer, I assume assigning such handles to my characters would be author-suicide. The less ‘hurdles’ for my readers, the better. I need to give them every excuse to read on and none to give up.

But then again, the success of the stories these characters live within has been phenomenal. Perhaps difficult character names are not a curse afterall, if they are as interesting as the story line.

A few times I’ve received feedback about my supernatural heroine, Ruth Wroth being “a tongue twister” but I still stand by the name. It’s like Lois Lane, Peter Parker or Severus Snape. There is a pop culture feel to it. I’ve almost finished the Ruthless trilogy (the next epic trilogy) now, so perhaps in my next series I’ll splash out and try an unusual, difficult character name.

 

 

Heartless


My new supernatural suspense story Heartless is finished! Currently some of my most favourite anally retentive friends are proofing the 99.99% finished product, then it will be ready for a final primp before release. “When?” You ask. Well, I am sorry to announce to those of you dying to know what is in store for Ruth after reading Ruthless, that I won’t be releasing Heartless until the new year (update: Here it is on Amazon and Smashwords). In the meantime, here is the synopsis I’ve been flip-flopping over. I hope it makes you want to read on!

“The devil is in the detail.”  

Like any other large corporation, Hell’s employees need to be acquired, managed and when necessary, terminated. Now in limbo, Ruth Wroth is the unwitting Human Resources manager of Hell’s Earth branch- GlobalCore. Forced to work for the charismatic Lucifer, Ruth must reap the souls of her heinous assignments in devilish style. Although killing scumbags for an eternity is strangely satisfying, Ruth has a plan to resign but first she needs help from the competition.

To secure salvation for her tarnished soul Ruth must find her seeing-sphere, the heavenly object that reveals the good deed needed to absolve her sins, but it is locked within a library managed by Heaven’s Earth branch- Stratus.

When Christian, an undeserving angel offers Ruth a lifeline in return for a date, she reluctantly agrees. Soon Ruth finds herself grappling with love, loyalty and lies as she is forced to choose between the better of two evils.  As the Rapture nears, will Ruth’s journey to the truth leave her heartless?

What is a Novella and should I write one?


What is a Novella?

A Novella is a short novel, usually between 20,000 and 50,000 words in length.

Should I write one?

Yes. Well in fact I already have. This post is really a personal reflection on why I and potentially other indie authors tend to deny that the products of their hard work are actually novellas and NOT novels.

I released my first book Ruthless in February 2014. The book is the first in a supernatural-action trilogy and it took me three long years to write (mainly because I didn’t do it very often).

It comes in at an underwhelming 48,888 words- including the dedication, acknowledgements, etc. When I gave it to friends to proof read, the faster readers of the group finished it in less than a day. Although that was extremely handy for me and my proofing process, it also felt like a kick in the guts –three years of writing, condensed into just a few hours of reading.

Being a brand spanking new author didn’t help. I felt like I had something to prove. I told people it was a novel, I marketed it as a novel and I defined it as a novel.

It is not a novel. It is a novella but now I realise that is a good thing!

There are some fantastic novellas out there and many of the classics you will know:

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (166 pages): This novel about an ambitious scientist who conducts an unorthodox experiment and creates a “monster” is an early example of gothic horror writing during the Romantic period.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (55 pages): No one should miss Kafka’s tale of a man who wakes up one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a gigantic bug.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (180 pages):For those of you who haven’t read this book, get to it! It’s only 180 pages. This classic, referred to by some as “the Great American Novel” is about a man who lets his love obsession get the better of him, and it ultimately leads to his demise

The Awakening by Kate Chopin (128 pages): This novel focuses on a woman who is trying to reconcile her views on femininity and motherhood with those of the very conservative South. It does not have a happy ending.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (144 pages): This crime novel features Chandler’s famous character PI Philip Marlowe. An old man is being blackmailed and he wants Marlowe to make it stop.

War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (160 pages): This classic science fiction novel about alien invasion is where so many bad book adaptations get their ideas. (Don’t watch the movies! Read this book instead!)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (160 pages): This novella is fairly different from the movie version (the male protagonist is gay…pretty big difference) and Capote’s prose is simply stunning, so even if you’ve seen the movie, this is still worth the read!

Animal Farm by George Orwell (140 pages): Orwell’s novella is an allegory for the Russian Revolution, and the hypocrisy of the newly-instilled leaders. Of course, it’s overtly political, and uses talking pigs, sheep, and horses to illustrate Orwell’s viewpoints.

If it’s good enough for old George, then it is good enough for me. I write short books that are action packed, easy to read and just as good as any novel.

Ruthless by Esther Krogdahl (288 pages): When career-driven Ruth lands a seemingly perfect job at GlobalCore- a chic yet mysterious global corporation, she prepares to dish out her cold and merciless brand of human resource management. But there is something different about this company. Ruth finds herself climbing the corporate ladder but this time as a matter of life or death. She must compete with angels wearing Armani as she struggles with her new eternal occupation that redefines “employee termination”.

I have almost finished the second in the Ruthless trilogy- Heartless, which will end up around the 45-50,000 mark also. This time, I’ll be marketing the book as a novella- loud and proud.

Writing is a Puzzle


I’ve always been a problem solver. I enjoy understanding a problem and then plotting to solve it in numerous different ways. I guess this is why I ended up in IT and moved towards programming. Although people tend to think of programming as a boring mathematical discipline, it is actually extremely creative. After all, you are given a problem – “create a system that does X” and ultimately you have thousands of ways to solve it. Programming is just a series of puzzles you need to complete in order to end up with a working system.

Now that I have started writing, I find this is just another puzzle. I liken it to a jigsaw. The complete puzzle is the entire story. The plot and character development are the pieces. It is always easier if you can refer to the complete picture on the box, but that is only a guide; you still have to fit the pieces together yourself. I am one of those people who like to pick out the corners and edges first. These are the characters and key events that drive the story forward. I then fill in the middle pieces with description, thought, and speech, which is easier now I have a sturdy frame.

I am currently travelling through Mexico, inhabiting a small island called Holbox (Casa Blat ha) as I write this. So I find another puzzle to compare programming and writing with- learning Spanish. This time, I don’t have a picture on the jigsaw box; it is just too big to visualize. What I do have is friendly locals and travelers who can give me new pieces of the puzzle and show me how they fit together. In this case, the edges are the verbs and their conjugations as well as what I would call “connectors” (to, from, and, etc). The pieces that make up the centre are nouns, adjectives and a vast array of vocabulary that add colour and focus to the bigger picture.

Before I left Australia, I sent Heartless- the sequel to Ruthless, to my editor, so now I can begin collecting the corners and edges for the third and final book in the trilogy- Soulless. I’m sure there will be elements of my travels that impact what the complete puzzle will look like. If it is anything like the view I am gazing upon now (long white beach with aqua blue water beyond), it will be my best book so far.

Esther Krogdahl Mexico Isla

 

Money on My Mind


I recently put together an infographic about how “successful” I am as an author (to date). The figures presented are underwhelming, which got me thinking- how else can I support this writing habit of mine? Below are a few ideas…

Affiliate Marketing

Loads of different online retailers do this but I have signed up with Amazon.com. If you decided to buy this copy of Ruthless- by following this link– I would make about 80c on top of my usual royalty. How it works is- you sign up for an account and fill out details about your web site (through which you would be selling items). Then IF you are accepted, you can search for products and generate your affiliate link which you add to your site and hope people will click and buy. I have made almost nothing in this endeavour, but if you feel charitable… click and buy me!
Enesco Hoots N’ Howlers by Lorrie Veasey Nerd Owl Mug, 16-Ounce
Mr Robot Remote Disc Shooting Robot
An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games: A detailed guide to the most important games; explores five decades of game evolution

Competitions

There are a bunch of writers competitions that you can enter and potentially win mula. Some example of competition that don’t have an entrance fee but that offer cash prizes are below:

Freelancer/Fiverr

If you have writing skills that killz then you could always sign yourself up as a freelancer or offer your services on Fiverr.com. Not exactly big bucks on offer but if you are disciplined and can manage a number of orders then it could add up and make a dent in your Gin bill.

Kick Starter

I am seriously considering creating a new project on Kick Starter to fund the second book in the Ruthless trilogy. After paying for all the coffee and breakfast I consume while writing, the book cover design and editing, I am out of pocket quite a bit. Since I have released Ruthless already, I’m hoping folks might see the potential and “back me” to complete the second. Kick starter is basically a way to get interest and donations from the public for any kind of project. You can offer “perks” such as first readings or signed copies etc as a way of enticing people, but ultimately the best method is to get people interested in your product.

https://www.kickstarter.com

Promotions – fire sale

Reducing the cost of your book or writing product in an effort to increase sales is not a bad idea -if done correctly. Speaking of which- I have a promotion on Amazon UK coming up on June 13th-19th 2014, when Ruthless will go down to 0.99p for the week. Bargain!