Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comic Retrospect: My Shining Knight

I'm going to take some time to be nostalgic and share some lessons learned from my first web comic venture, "My Shining Knight" (MSK).

This was not the first comic I started during that period of my life (age 16). There were many attempts at a comic. One of the first was trying to make an "A Bug's Life" manga based off one of my fanfictions. Please groan. I do. The art is actually pretty Dece. I took time to really ink in all the details. ...it was only ever 1 page long. :( *sigh*

The next comic was a blatant rip-off of Sailor Moon. (I intend to post that up some day. I just gotta be NOT lazy and scan it in). Again really good detail on backgrounds, inking and there's some color. It looks cool but oh lord the story...I only got like 16 pages in before I abandoned it.

There is a point to this really.

Most of the story or comics I dreamed up had a theme at that time. Boarding Schools (private schools), socially repressed female leads, French boyfriends. (I kid you not, I maybe had 2 or 3 comic ideas with one or more of these themes).
It was no accident that MSK found its origin in these themes because they all described me. I went to a private school, felt socially repressed, and wanted a boyfriend.

Cecilia and Brianna, the female leads for the story, are self-insertions of myself and my best friend. The school, it pretty much the school I went to in my first few years of high school. (I transferred out.) The uniforms...pretty much what we had to wear. No lie...those WERE the uniforms.

When I first wrote the story, it was actually pretty short. In the current state of the comic, chapter 4 would have been the last chapter. The original ending I had planned was this: After the boys returned home, Cecilia and Brianna travel to France and the rings they received transports them to the time where Sebastien and Antoine are originally from. They get a fairy tale ending (meaning get married almost immediately) and the bad guy Lucifer had become a priest. (Honestly, that last bit keeps me in stitches to this day because how he actually came out is HILARIOUSLY different.)

I don't quite remember WHAT inspired me to write more for the comic. Perhaps I was not satisfied with that ending or I thought it was too short or I felt influenced by comics that were writing so many chapters. But I did. I had to compromise that ending I had originally planned and make it a link into the "act 2" so to speak.

This second half is where it turns into the typical high fantasy, sword and sorcery type comic. I had to bullshit my way through so many plot holes that it became rediculous. I ended up drawing 12 chapters in all. As I aged with this comic, I was continually unsatisfied. I kept trying to rewrite the script of later chapters to some how save the story, but that did not work.

MSK I still consider an achievement in that I finished it to an ending that was slightly more satisfying than the fairy-tale I had before.
Improved art! Chapters 10-12 have some of my favorite artwork done.

Now that I'm more mature as a writer and artist, many flaws stand out. The characters are rather inconsistant, the villain is a weak excuse, the timing is weird, and off.

The biggest lesson learned of course is that TIME TRAVEL = FAIL!! Only one story has ever pulled it off and that's Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (and Back to the Future). Time travel as an element becomes a crutch and should never, never ever be used! No! Never. It is a perfect formula for failure! If you get anything out of this take this with you. Do not try to write a "serious" story with time travel.

Another thing I learned was to write out the WHOLE story, edit, and feel happy about it before drawing. These are more lessons I learned after producing a few films and animations and realizing "HEY...pre-production = awesome!"
I find is best to outline and bare-bones things before writing dialog scripts (which change constantly).

Now, writing down the comic does not guarantee success...obviously. I wrote down MSK before drawing it. But I did not finish writing it before I started drawing.

MSK, not a failure but not quite a success. :)
Hey at least I was able to use the universe to self-publish and produce Lucius.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Comic Discussion: Can I be serious?

While preparing for yet another web-comic adventure I constantly keep an eye on others to see what they're doing, what works for them and if I could make it work for me.

My current comic work "7 Eldest" so far has taken a very "serious" tone, which is not like me at all. Well, perhaps not "serious" but more mature. And by mature I don't want you to jump right to the conclusion that I mean "porn". But you already did, didn't you? Ah wells.

The thing is that serious comics appeal to an audience that I don't think I know very well. I read serious/drama web-comics but there's always some sort of humor splashed in. Like the occasional EXTREME emotion or exaggeration. I suppose I best define what I think is expected of web-comics.

Web-comics are fast paced, funny, and kind of like newspaper comics...only better. Or they should be for the most part. Let's admit the more heavily trafficked web-comics are the ones that do the gag-a-day route...or video games. Yes.

Yet there are a couple of gems out there that are full out dramas that are very successful without resorting to the exaggeration.

My ideal that I think of is "The Dreamer" by Lora. It takes a style different than what I'm used to, a more "Western" style I would call it which doesn't use the animated or cartoony avenue at all with expressions. Yet, it appeals to its audience well enough.

Roza by Kelly Hamilton is another good example of something of a serious story but not resorting to "chibi" anime moments. She does somethings more along the lines of traditional animation.

So here I am about to embark into a genre that won't use "anime" moments, not intend to be humorous in any way, and still set out to be a good comic story.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

RPG Plot Shop: Saving the World Again

RPG plots usually center around the idea of saving something before it is lost. Generically somehow it's tied with saving the world before it is destroyed. You are that shining ray of hope for the entire world. And really, I don't think the RPG audience ever gets bored of it. How empowering it is to have the fate of the WORLD tied to YOU.

Yet as a storytelling device, it wants something more...something that makes it believable. Here are some tips to carry in your pocket.

1) It's a Small World After All
In an RPG you can travel the world in a matter of minutes. Making it a very small space. You may get to meet all the populated areas IN the world within the game. That way when you say you are saving the WHOLE world, it is accurate because you have traveled all of it and know almost everyone. Yet, this is unrealistic as far as the narrative is concerned. It takes 3 long novels for Frodo to reach Mount Doom and he didn't even travel the world and meet everyone.

However, it's all a matter of perspective. To a mouse living in a hole in the wall, the whole house may be their world. It is just as empowering to be a mouse trying to save their world (prevent a house from being destroyed) as it is to be a human trying to save a planet.

2) Save the World In chunks
Leveling right? Makes sense! The characters world can expand farther and farther as they save more and more bits of it. Maybe making friends along the way. :)

3) Make it Personal
The most important thing to do is to somehow invoke empathy from the player. They should WANT to save this world and this character. To do this you must give them human qualities.
Do NOT destroy their village, players are now not sympathetic to that idea at all.
Kidnapping is a good one, although also common.
Mystery is another one. Something out of the ordinary has appeared. This draws the players curiosity about "what happens next".

4) Are we really saving the world?
It is a challenge that can be posed to the player and/or the story - is this the right way to do things? Can we really save the world like this?
Usually this is a weak argument in RPG games because you fought all the way there, the system did not allow any other way for you to progress, so how DARE the STORY blame you for doing things that way. Really! How impertinent! *shakes fist*
Obviously this means creatively putting that choice within the game. Kind of like fable - save the world...or doom it yourself! Mwahahahaha!

5) Saving the world from non-destruction
Destroying the world or the end of the world is old sauce. Really making it work takes art and skill. It'd be great if I could think of a way but I really can't so here's what you can do alternatively. Not every villain is out for destruction...some just want to change the world for the worse. So free slaves, put an end to dictators, rob from the rich to feed the poor, or save the last Unicorn. :3

These are all suggestions for making your 'save the world' story for your RPG feel LESS like a 'save the world story'. It's not a bad plot line, it's just been used in many places and as a designer or writer, you should push yourself.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Unicorns: Modern and Classic renditions

You know writing about unicorns or a unicorn people is not that uncommon. Even in my own time I've written at least 5 stories about unicorns specifically. (The first being a paragraph I wrote in 2nd grade.) I've also read various myths and stories relating the animal itself including "Into the Land of the Unicorns" by Bruce Coville, "The Unicorns of Balinor" series, "The Obsidian Trilogy" by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory and "The Last Unicorn" by Peter Beagle. (Yes, I read the book and have the movie.) I've also read a couple of short story collections about the beast and so on and so forth.

Lately on DeviantArt, where I find lots of visual inspiration, I find lots of Unicorn people as a race. Not just furry art either. I knew I wasn't alone in my imaginings of such things. (I mean one story I wrote was about a unicorn who turns into a girl. Completely unoriginal by the way). But the myths are very different.

At least in my mind, the Classic Myth, of the Unicorn was that is was a shy, fragile beast that could only be lured by a pure maid. The creature was a symbol of purity and sacredness. Something about that still holds charm for me. Many of the stories I read base the unicorn off of this notion. It is a beast of purity that loves pure things.

Some of the more modern takes make Unicorns prudish or stuck up. Arrogant unicorns are quite fun to read. "The Last Unicorn" is one of these since the unicorn is NOT human, she has no feelings of regret and places herself as something above and beyond human standing. (Until she's turned into one herself...but I won't spoil things). Actually, it's quite common for unicorns to be as arrogant as elves in LOTR.

Whenever I write a unicorn into my story, I take my influence from what I have read before of course. In one story I wrote (Angel Gate), the character of the Unicorn (named Unicorn) was a bit of an oddball. He was drawn by pure lads instead of pure maids which was going to be a plot device since the protagonist was looking for a new KING. I didn't give things a second thought because there was nothing sexual about the Unicorn seeking the pure lad over a pure maid. (I actually never distinguished the gender of the unicorn either in the writing). However, when I shared my story with a friend they pointed out that I had written a "gay unicorn" unintentionally.

This leads to the other modern view of the Unicorn being a symbol of homosexuality. (Phallic horn and all.) Obviously this clashes mightily with my preconception of the unicorn being a beast of purity. However, it's probably more common to find the "gay" strand in a unicorn character than not. And I've fallen into the trap time and time again. Because to me, the unicorn was never a symbol of anything sexual, until that fated day when I was told my unicorn was gay.

I recently decided to rewrite that story for NaNoWriMo last year and this time took into consideration what happened. Unicorn was a pivotal character in the story and this time give a male gender. I also changed the creature to something more carnivorous and dangerous because he was originally sent to kill the protagonist. In this version, the Unicorn can only speak into minds of virgins and anyone outside of that can not hear his voice. Thus he relies on the protagonist and some of the lesser characters to have himself heard, since he actually is a very wise and practical creature. His role was still the same. He was to "sense" pure hearted candidates for the new king, but in this case was more of an assistant since the protagonist had "signs" to follow. Still, despite my trying to put up that wall, I feel the hint of gayness in his character as he expresses true concern for the future king. I've actually abandoned this story (not because of poor unicorn) because I ran into a wall with the two main characters and the events to follow. I could not motivate myself to write more.

In a role play, I created a unicorn shape-shifter character for the sake of the story named Apollos. He was a young spoiled brat, which are fun characters to write and torment. He was obsessed with purity and cleanliness to the point of annoyance for almost all the characters except the stupid one (also played by me). Being the last of the white unicorns that were suppose to select a new high priestess if she should ever die (similar to the series 12 Kingdoms where the kirin (Chinese unicorn) chooses the next emperor. I really LOVE that myth). However, it turns out that the character he chooses is actually a new high priest because he likes him the best. There were even slight tones of affection towards him and distaste for the girl who liked him. (Although I ultimately intended those two to be together. :3) It was just SO easy to fall into that.

Browsing DeviantArt and finding others who have similar unicorn characters, I find that I'm not the only one who falls into this trap. In fact, it's more common to find a gay unicorn character than a straight one. And I find myself somewhat disappointed. It has become something of a novelty now. There are 2 artists that I found that had characters drawn exactly how I wanted to draw my own unicorn people (who actually I drew before creating fully). Except drawn in a much better art style than mine. They were charming in looks and supposed personality, but what caught me by surprise (I mean really I shouldn't have been surprised) was their sexual preference.

So why this thought bubble? Because I'm writing a novel series about a unicorn people. They shape-shift into their half-human form so they can relate to elves and fae. Yet also have animal forms to defend themselves and perform specific tasks. (Also called their "pure" form).
I've taken influence from every myth I enjoy: Unicorns of Balinor, the Last Unicorn, Classic Myth and 12 Kingdoms.
From Unicorns of Balinor I have various colors for my unicorns other than white.
12 Kingdoms I take the idea that the unicorn is a "heavenly beast". (Really, the kirin stuff in that series is SO fascinating and deep. I can't express its awesome sauce.)
The Last Unicorn takes the idea of arrogance, power and almost otherworldly quality.
Classic Myth is where the magic and desire for purity comes in for at least the white variety.

My Myth for Songs of the Brinds
Brinds (my unicorn people) take their root in religion and faith (heavenly beast). They believe they are a chosen people and that is why they are the ONLY creature in the world that can perform magic (in a loose sense of the term. Magic is more of a natural phenomenon.) And the thing is, they ARE the chosen people just like the Hebrews of ancient time where I also got lots of influence. And just like the ancient Hebrews, they are capture and exiled.

The various "clans" (or races actually) are defined by their powers and looks. Originally each "clan" was going to have specific duties. The White Unicorns where the center of religion and society that needed protection. Fire and Iron Unicorns were their army and protectors. Water Unicorns were their mouthpiece. But that went away after various iterations of the myth.

The White Unicorns in my tale are still incredibly special in their powers and there is a desire to protect them. They're kind of like the Tribe of Levi in the Old Testament you know. (The tribe of Priests fyi). They were the only tribe that was allowed to touch and carry the Ark of the Covenant. That's where that influence comes from.

The other tribes don't have specific jobs, but have special talents relating to various tasks.

I've gotten off topic haven't I? Yes. Well back to unicorns then.

I think the trouble with a Unicorn "people", giving them somewhat human appearances and everything is that they become less of the myth. Just like in the Last Unicorn, when the Unicorn became human she was dying and rotting and she could feel it. She started to lose her "unicorn-ness" the longer she was in the human body. Suddenly she had human emotions and could love and regret. There lies the problem of making unicorns too human. They lose a bit of their arrogance and immortalness.

The only unicorn "people" that somehow maintain their "heavenly" origin are the kirin in 12 Kingdoms. They're shape-shifting unicorns and are in-tune intimately with the "Way of Heaven". (Oriental Philosophy). Even the one character who had his empress fall in love with him was able to maintain his aloofness and fail to return the emotion. They could feel emotion and pain more deeply than humans perhaps that's why. Still their sensitivity to evil (represented by bloodshed) caused them pain and if their emperor sinned is caused illness and eventually death if the sinner did not repent. There was just something that remained stoic and pure about the creatures. And that may be because there was no use for sex in the world AT ALL because everything was born from egg-fruit on the trees. (That solves that problem!)

But the trend goes if a Unicorn becomes human, they lose their immortality and connection to holiness. I made my unicorn people very much human on purpose though. There are only loose ties to the myths where my inspiration came from. And I stick with my Western Philosophy (sex is good! ;D) and actually spent some time figuring out how "genetics" work and how the inability to bear a child through intimacy is seen as ungodly.

I feel I may be giving too much of my story away now. And I've drifted off on so many tangents that it's time to wrap up. So let me sum up the thoughts I've shared thus far.
-The Classic Myth as inspiration
-The modern common stereotype of homosexual unicorns
-My feelings about the mixing of human qualities with the immortal myth
-My many examples of unicorn myths that I like and find inspiring
-How I've used my myths and common myths to bring my story to life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Magic Shop

Magic in Games vs. Magic in Fantasy Novels

For a bit here, I'd like to discuss magic systems in fantasy media with a focus on games, novels and comics. The concept of magic is something that makes a person something greater than normal. It allows for the impossible to happen. But when it allows for the impossible, it becomes improbable and in some cases unbelievable. I mentioned this in my geography entry that I don't like cheesy magic in my fantasy novels. There are times when it can feel like an excuse or a plot hole ready to happen.

However, on the other hand, in visual stories such as video games and comics, I can be more forgiving about cheap magic. Because magic as well as being an empowerment to the character is a spectacle to be seen. Unless a book is illustrated you don't get that same awe (or at least I don't, since I'm visually stimulated) that you get from watching a fire ball consume something.

I'm especially, especially forgiving to games because magic IS A SYSTEM. And when something is systematic, it does not feel like an excuse, it feels like it's part of the world. It feels normal.

So let's get into some examples shall we?

Novel Magic: Harry Potter
Harry Potter novels sort of have a system, but not a very tangible one. There is something about magic being a natural talent like art or music, yet everyone who has the talent is taught. (Thus bloodlines etc). That makes magic seem more human.
There is also magic with certain limitations that are clear such as brewing a potion or handling a magic beast. That's because these things were considered a science really and supposedly even non-wizard types could do it if they could find hen's teeth. :)
Almost all other magic relies on the use of a wand and knowing the right incantations or motions.
However, if you have all these things, you were practically invincible.
(You know I'm suddenly reminded of that movie Merlin with Sam Niels and the three types of wizards: word, hand and thought. Being able to cast a spell by speaking, by hand motions and then by sheer will power. Never got beyond being a hand wizard.)

Enough side notes then. While the Harry Potter series is still an enjoyable read and delightful story because of the characters, the magic feels cheap. This may be in part because the setting is the modern world and the modern world follows a system of nature which this magic is not related to. The wands were an endless source of power (which was not used to stop global warming or our energy crisis...I mean seriously people.). There was no need to rely on a backup plan because the magic would ALWAYS work...wouldn't always work correctly but it worked.

Something about magic being the infinite power makes the story cheap, although in this case it was used tactfully enough.

Novel Magic: The Obsidian Trilogy

In the three novels by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory, we are introduced to a fantasy world of magic that is very different from the previous example. The difference was that magic was not very infinite and was not always successful. That was because magic was the realm of the gods that was imparted onto the people and that had limits. In fact, it would drain life away if you didn't do things right. Not everyone could do magic, so it was special in a way. There was a limited supply of magic which made moments when magic was used uncertain and exciting. The character was left wondering if the spell they cast would even work or if their exchange was acceptable to the gods. (Power was exchanged for doing something for the gods. The bigger the spell the higher the price).

Magic was a system in this case, but a very fluid and manipulative one that could easily fall into the trap of "convenient" magic tricks (and sometimes it did do that, but that's what writing is all about. Control!)

Visual Magic: Full Metal Alchemist
You can call it comic or anime series, both the same thing in regards to the "magic" or alchemy.
They bring in the idea of equivalent exchange similar to the previous example. It was also a science in a way where accuracy of material to be changed, symbols to write and so on had an effect on the result. It also was physically demanding on a person. Except for the main character for reasons of bloodline apparently. Like in Harry Potter, some genetics were just better at it than others. Or rather gave a predisposition to be better.

The series also takes interesting terms to make alchemy less of a science and more of a faith in certain points which makes the story better and calls into question things about alchemy.
I won't spoil storylines...plus I have a hard time keeping things straight in my head but how true equivalent exchange actually is comes into question. Then the whole system itself is called into question.
This is GOOD magic and entertaining, although, it is just as abused as most because the main character is special. (They have to be...they're a fugging main character. They're always special.) But his powers were not UNIQUE. There were other people who could clap their hands and not need a circle.

Game Magic: Tales of Symphonia

I could pick any game in the RPG genre, but this one I've at least played all the way through...although it's been awhile. The system of magic in games is never cheap. Really. I mean because it's not the author abusing it, it's the player using it. (Whether properly or not).
Magic in the world is usually stronger with one character over the other, but then special abilities of any kind are limited by the 'point system'. Every spell costs points (equivalent exchange B***!) the stronger the spell the more it costs. You have to recharge points in special ways if you want to continue to use magic in your fights.

The capacity to cast magic increases with practice (leveling). So in the beginning your "magic points" (MP) capacity is set to 10 points. Casting simple spells like a fire ball may cost 3 points. You can only cast 3 fire ball spells at full capacity and still have 1 point left over. That may work well for small monsters early in the game but later on things get harder and 3 won't be enough.
So as the character gains experience and so on the capacity grows say to 15. Then you can cast 5 fire ball spells at full capacity.

In the Tales example everyone uses "magic", it's just sometimes called a skill because really they don't cast anything. There are two specific magic casters in the group, Genis and his sister Raine. They both cast offensive spells like fire ball or healing or lighting. The more MP they have the more spells they can cast and stronger spells too. As they grow they learn new ones. The time it takes to cast lessens as they grow as well (which is important since this is a real time battle system).

There is also a summoner, which uses cards to summon monsters to fight for her.

Then there are 2 magic fighters, Zelos and Colette. They have mix of both "special moves" (which take MP) and magic spells to cast. Actually, everyone can cast one or two spells of some sort. (If I remember correctly).

Relating all this to Game Design

So this entry is both thoughts about magic as a system and magic as a story element. In some cases preference of the author is the deciding factor but I think it is good for authors to look to the magic used in games. Magic as a system works better (in my opinion) than magic as a plot device.

However, a game system that also considers things such as "talent" or "experience" like in stories makes it much richer. In some symbolic ways they already do this.
Mages are magic casters specifically. That is their talent and predisposition and experience. This is all reflected in their "statistics". (Although I prefer graphs to assigning numbers. It's more biological and less mechanical).

Game magic is my favorite because it can't abuse the system. It's a computer program. And having those parameters makes it feel more REAL. Because it has limits just like everything in life. How you limit it in your game system or story is important to how things play out in the long run.

Let me go over some of the systems pointed out in this entry:
Equivalent Exchange - the output is equal to input
Experience - the more you practice the better you get, especially if you are made for magic (mage)
Ambivalent Exchange - the output is greater than the supposed input or visa versa.
Physical Limits - the power is limited by a person's strength or a specific object or both.
Infinite Well of Power - wait...this system is broken
Rune Drawing - especially with those new-fangled touch screen games. Drawing runes and remembering shapes is a great system too! (The harry potter video games use this).

All of these are really useful systems to mix and match in your game's magic system. Remember that magic is defined by its limits not by it's ability. Take this consideration when you write too.

As I mentioned in my other entry about my feelings towards magic in storybooks, the less it's used the better. It can cheapen the experience if magic is just used common place. I prefer it to happen in the shadows and be a supernatural phenomenon. (Like in Chronicles of Narnia, only Aslan could do "magic" and that was because he was God. Okay...the White Witch too...but she was the Devil. Gods can do whatever they damn well please.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

What do You Believe - Religion

Often times in games with stories attached to them there may be some hintings of a religious power or common faith. This can range from gods to mirrors of current religions.

As someone who believes and practices my own faith I find it interesting when religion is included in a game. For the most part it is usually a trivial part of the game or plays mostly in the background. I consider myself very ecumenical but there are times when I feel things were done "wrong" or "poorly".

This usually happens when a game uses a faith system that reflects a current one from Earth.
Two big offenders that I have played are Luminous Arc and Tales of Symphonia.
Both have a religious power that mirrors what happens to be my faith, Catholicism.
The games featured bishops, priests and even a pope in one of the games. And in both such games, the Church of the world was villainized. Which is fairly common in popular media anyway. Needless to say I felt a little sad playing the games. Luminous Arc I ended up trading in and not finishing because the story was frustrating me and the game was pretty boring.

I may be too sensitive about the whole thing but I think it's normal to feel upset if a game shows something or says something that goes against something you feel strongly about.

However, other games with religions don't bother me at all. I in fact really enjoy when developers go through the trouble of developing an original faith system for the world. It is okay to draw some inspiration from faiths of this world but mimicing it will just be insulting to people of that faith...unless of course that is your intention.

This blog writes an excellent rant on Religion in Fantasy Fiction: http://limyaael.livejournal.com/131681.html

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fantasy Novels: Prudence

You know like any nerd I enjoy fantasy novels. I also enjoy writing them. And because this is my blog there are some things I'd like to complain about. I have some scars left by fantasy novels that I have read that really betrayed me. Most of them were recommended by friends who clearly do not know my tastes as well as they think they do.

The hero of the story is meant to represent an ideal that the reader relates to or disagrees with. There is something that the reader sympathizes with or else they don't enjoy the book. What's even worse is when the reader sympathizes and relates to the character and then the character makes a change for the worse and the reader is lost.

There are a few times this has happened when I was reading a book and unfortunately I remember those books better than the stories I truly enjoyed.
One book starred a girl who wanted to become a knight. This was something I related to. I admire women who enter male dominated spaces like the games industry or medical field. (Since that's what I have been trying to do!) However, at one point when she starts puberty, she receives a charm that prevents pregnancy which is almost immediately abused. The character lost my admiration and I never finished the books.

Another had a character that was a Catholic priest in the middle ages and an elf. He was intelligent and fought to remain faithful to Catholic teachings...until book two when he finally gives into the wiles of a woman. (By that time he had actually left the priesthood.) I was doubly betrayed and even a bit hurt by this because I am Catholic myself. He was so good and tried so hard, I hated that female character so much for what she did. (And this is just a book for gosh sake!) She had turned him into something terrible. In the end, Saint Francis of Assisi comes along to save the day...sort of.

There was another time when the character was not ruined until I read the second book which was not about him. In this case, it was the author who betrayed me and ruined a good character by revealing his past and revealing that his love interest in the first book and future wife...was his cousin. Not to mention that his mother was a terrible character and I simply could not relate to any of the protagonists. I was totally rooting for the bad guy. (I really, really sympathized with him. Poor guy. His wife cheats on him AND he had to kill his horses.)

Clearly, I was NOT in the demographic these books were intended to please. I'm too prudent and too Catholic. I want my priests to remain celibate just like ALL the priests I know and all the Saints I have read about (Edit: Yeah I know most saints weren't perfect but usually they were more risque BEFORE conversion and afterwards they manage to resist temptation). I like my female knights to prove their prowess outside the bedroom. I like my characters not to marry their cousins please. Thanks.
And I really like to avoid sex in novels unless it's just implied and really not a gimmick or self-satisfaction for an author. (Actually, I don't mind it if the characters are married...I'll still skip those pages but as long as they tied the knot first it's cool.)

So in short, don't betray your characters, especially female characters. And if the character is one of those goody-goody prudes that goes bad...DON'T RECOMMEND IT TO ME!! (Yeah I didn't like Grease either. What's SO bad about being GOOD?)

Monday, September 8, 2008

A few of my Favorite Games

I'm stretching some of my memory here to try and remember some of my favorite all-time games. I will try to limit it to my top 8...there may be less. They are not ranked in order of MOST FAVORITE GAME EVAR to least. My most favorite game changes with the times and my mood. So let's get digging.

1. Designasaurus 2 - This one stretches back to hallowed antiquity. It ran on MS-DOS and was stored on 5 hard disks (which are floppy.) The premise of the game was you got to pick a dinosaur or make your own out of parts, go back in time, and survive. This was in some lab in the far future. 2601 ad or something. There were two modes. Practice Mode and Adventure mode. Adventure mode was basically teleporting your dinosaur hero to every level and finding "gene prints" to the ultimate dinosaur. It was a weak-ass story, but at age 7 I gobbled it up. I found it on an abandonware site and still enjoy the simple pleasures of pretending I'm a dinosaur, roaming around a pixelated jungle searching for pools of water.

2. Legend of Zelda Series - There are specific games in the series I like best, Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and the Oracle Series. In short...all the Zelda games I was able to beat. I've played others but have yet to conquer them. And really I think it is the simplicity of the game that make it so wonderful. There is joy in recognizing a pattern and having it follow in every episode after. Some of the "stories" are more intriguing than others, thanks to the improvement of visuals and cinematics in games. And I can't help that I have an elf-ear fettish.

3. Harvest Moon Series - An honest simple farming game. For once it is a game that is not about setting off to DESTROY the evil in the world, but to build up from something considered dead or uncultivated. Through out the series there have been notable flaws and bugs with every game release which unfortunately has become a staple for the series. (Which is truly unfortunate). Again I have favorites, N64, Another Wonderful Life, Magic Melody and Island of Happiness. N64 I believe has wonderful game balance and simplicity. It's not "too hard" like some of the later additions to the series. Another Wonderful Life had a female heroine (and most of the bugs worked out from the boy version) and I loved the graphics. The animal farming was also more realistic in that cows needed to be bred every so often or they stop giving milk! Magic Melody actually balanced out the most exciting aspects of the game. There was much more to do and for the first time had multiplayer action (and the horse race!)
The most recent HM game I bought is Island of Happiness. For the portable series, so far I think it is the most well-balanced yet challenging game. The controls can get "sticky" but it's an improvement from DS: CUTE. Again...having a choice for the gender of the player character is a thumbs up.

4. Sims 2 - User custimazation for such a sandbox game. There's actually very little I could say about the Sims.

5. Summon Knight Series - I found this little gem through a recommendation through Amazon.com. It was the ability to choose the gender of my player character that attracted me at first. It turned out to be a delightful little RPG adventure game with a wonderfully done action combat system and a bit of romance added on. I've just finished the newest addition on the DS and can gladly say they've only been improving on the system.

6. Prince of Persia Trilogy - This was actually another gem I picked up based on the sudden urge to want to play it. I had seen my friends play it and watched some videos online. And hey, always enjoy playing a ruggedly handsome dude who strips as the game proceeds. (PANTS OF TIME!) Granted I've only played the first and last game of the trilogy based on the fact that most of the reviews on Warrior Within are harsh. The battle system was improved but the story, characters and music were all ruined. I am incredibly dubious about the new instalment since it does not involve the "original prince" (the original actually being a pixel dude). The female player and new prince do look like Final Fantasy wannabees. DISHONOR ON YOU! DISHONOR ON YOUR COW!! Anyway point is, that I enjoyed the graphics, story, and battle system for what it offered.

7. Odin Sphere - This game is actually what motivated me to buy a PS2. I was browsing the Atlus website because they made the Summon Night series and I've become a little fangirl. The ART on this is what completely sold me AND the interesting game mechanics. What I found upon actually playing the game that it will now forever hold the place as my favorite storyline and some of my favorite characters. I found something to like about the personality of each one. It was just so artistically amazing that there are no words.

8. The Lion King (Game Gear) - Another one pulled out of antiquity, the first game I got on my game gear was the Lion King. Not only do I adore the movie, but playing the characters was so fun. Nothing to me is more soothing than watching an animal run animation. That and I got to play as an animal.


My Favorite Trends in Games

There are a couple of themes in games that I like and usually cause me to buy the game.

1. Player plays as a non-human character. Twilight Princess, Okami, Lion King and Designasaurus all offered me the role of a non-human character to play. When I was little I was dead set on becoming a Vet up until 8th grade...after biology and discovering that I may need to do more math to become one.

2. There's a horse riding portion of the game. The Zelda Series, Harvest Moon, and a few other games I have offer horse riding as a portion of the game. I used to own a horse so that's where that love comes from.

3. A choice to be a female main character. Some days I like to gender swap, other days I want to play the role of the gender I actually am. Female. Doesn't mean the story or game is better, it's just something I look for in games.

4. Elves/Handsome men - Eye candy...that's what the biz is about isn't it? Appeal to my likes and I'll forgive some gameplay flaws.

5. Pattern repetition - DDR, Zelda Series, and most puzzle games require you to recognize a pattern to solve puzzles or beat the game. I feel so achieved once I recognize a pattern and it works in various situations.

6. Easy Pacing - I need to play games where I can have a easy place to stop and pick up again later. A game that is too intense wears me out.

7. NO QUICK TIME! - This was ONE flaw I found in the PoP games. The quick kill that required PRECISE timing that I just could NOT get. It was pure luck that I beat the first boss. Bosses after that were pretty easy...thanks to online guides. (Okay the last guy was a challenge I'll admit.)

8. Well Developed characters with some romantic spice. A story becomes a good story when the characters are real enough and there is romantic tension. I'm not a fanfic writer (or supporter really), but I am really drawn to games that let me choose a "romantic partner" or sets up romantic tension between characters. (Again, Prince of Persia was GREAT for this. Granted I sort of skipped the "bath scene" because it was making me uncomfortable.) Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time SORT OF do this with the teasing and ovious relationship that buds between Link and Midna or Link and Princess Ruto (which was comedic).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Retrospect: How I Play Games

Last night I was having an interesting reflection about how I got into gaming and what sort of gamer I consider myself.

What Am I?
There really isn't a term or catch-phrase that encompasses what I am. On the one hand I consider myself a casual gamer, I enjoy many 'brain-dead' online games like Bejeweled, Diner Dash, Ponystars, the Sims and other games that don't require me to put in much of my time. I also play a lot of handheld games on my DS.

I'm not quite a hard-core player but I'm also a console gamer and enjoy several hours of fun playing RPG, Action/Adventure, and Platformer games. (And the occasional arcade fighter). However, I don't have the same dedication to a game that I see other players have. I know that I will never be the best so I don't even try. I'm just having a good time. But I do play for long hours when I do.

So I guess I would call myself an Active Gamer. A casual gamer seems to be the type who will play games on occasion, an active gamer would play games multiple days of the week if not a little every day. An Active Gamer would be the type of person to make time for games if they are busy (like myself. I'm earning my Master's degree and working.)

Where I came from.
It was a very long time before I actively got into console gaming, but I came from the generation where the SNES came out and was popular when I was six. I remember playing Duck Hunt and Super Mario Brothers at my neighbors house on occasion. We never got one. By the time I was seven I was in computer classes with Hard Disks that were actually floppy...which I think is a hilarious misnomer to this day. All I had then were computer games. That would be my experience for many years. So I got good at DOS, I used to know some BASIC and really enjoyed some classics like Oregon Trail, Treasure Mountain, and Designasaurus.

The next console to enter our home was a Sega GameGear, which we though superior to Nintendo's gameboy because it had a color screen. No comment on how bulky and huge the thing was and it sucked battery power hardcore. My brother got his for good grades, I got mine for good grades too so we each had our own console. Now, see this is unique apparently because most parents do NOT buy game systems for their daughters. (I've been researching women and gaming and it's true.) My sister even got a Nintendo GameBoy eventually. It must have been around 1995 then because she got the Toy Story game. Yes...I got my game gear in 1994 because I got the Lion King game. (I keep track of dates based on what Disney movie came out. )

I remember when the N64 came out. Our neighbors had it and it was so fun to play. We eventually got the N64 fairly close to the time when it would start losing popularity. That was an awesome Christmas. It was for my brother but we all knew it would be for the family. My parents would not buy another console for us for many, many years. The game cube came out and we couldn't care less. We rented a system once and literally got motion sickness. (I don't think eating oreos and whipped cream helped that any.)

We were completely satisfied with the system we had. Which honestly makes a lot of sense if you think about it. We also got some new game boys somewhere along the way but we got the systems when there were GOOD games for them out.

It would be my second year of university. And the sole reason I went out to buy a Game Cube was to play Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. And if you remember, that is when the GC started going out. I bought my cube (and oddly enough influenced my mother to buy my youngest sister a cube) just as the Wii came out. Go us. But by then all the good games on the Game Cube had already come out so I had plenty to play while waiting for Twilight Princess. Which was honestly the BEST game for me ever and I'll elaborate on that later. ;)

A year after the Wii came out, my family bought one. (I helped find one on Ebay during the holiday season.) Which is odd because our family has a running track record of buying a system right before the next gen comes out. However, for my family it's the system that's had the most success so far. My mom enjoys it. My siblings enjoy it. And I enjoy it when I go home.

I did not buy my DS or PS2 until Graduate School. DS I bought because I like Pink and wanted a hand held system. PS2 did have many games that I thought would be fun and I do love DDR, but it was not until Odin Sphere that I was pressed to buy a used one off of Amazon. Mind you the PS3 had been out for a couple years now.

My Philosophy
My parents taught me well about being smart about my buying habits. Today will be the first time in several months that I buy a NEW game instead of a USED game. I've bought a couple of used games in the past few months...and one new one. And really it's the smart thing to do. Because by then several people have gotten good play out of a game and write reviews on whether or not it was good. Plus the online guides will be refined so you don't have to buy a strategy book. You also don't have to camp out for three days to get it. I mean seriously.

I played Prince of Persia Sands of Time for the first time this summer. Okay, I knew it was a good game because I saw some of my friends playing it ages ago. But I just had no inclination to buy it at the time, nor did I have a system. I actually bought 2 thrones first just based on the reviews of the game and never bought Warrior Within based on the game reviews. They all said the same thing: GREAT game play and combat system - Story = suck and music = wtf happened to that nice Arab-techno we had going and Characters = went through shitville and got lost at the bottom of a bottle.
(Rephrased by myself of course.)

But the best part is both these Prince of Persia games cost me less than $20. Two thrones was a trade in game and Sands of Time was $10. Buy it new it would be probably close to $30 or so.

Yes that's definitely the BEST part of buying a game used. The price is low for a great game! Downside is you may not get the cover box or manual. I'm sad my Sands of Time has neither of these things. :( But that's what the interwebs are for.

I certainly plan on Buying a Wii eventually. There are some good games already, but not enough and there are very few used games. and new games are $50 a pop.

Now I was going to go on a Legend of Zelda tangent but I think I'll pass until next time. :D

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Opinion: Fantasy Novel Geography

This is purely an opinionated piece that I just felt I had to get out of my system.
Late last night I had this thought bubble while writing down the details of geography for the world in Brind Songs and trying to set up a wiki.

I've drawn maps of my "worlds" and looked at other maps. Middle Earth, wherever the funk Eragon took place, Narnia etc. And even lots of online fantasy that I've read...the world is always incomplete on the map. It's always just a coast like Europe. Just a jut of land or a coast line, that's all you get to see. I've been guilty of this myself when I finally mapped out Gauland for my MSK novel and a few RP maps.

It's not very annoying actually so much as it is a common trend I've noticed. Of course the map is only going to show what matters to the story. That's all you need really. The rest is no man's land and no one knows what happens out there. No one.
"What's over that nearly impassible mountain range?"
"More land probably. No one cares...not even the creator."

For my story I knew there would be no stretch of land that I at least didn't know something about. It may not pertain to the novels but that doesn't matter. I need to know the world better than my own backyard. So when you see a map, you see the whole world. There will be no stretch of land beyond the edges of the maps. I have 3 island continents and that's it. (I still have to place the polar ice caps, but all in good time.)

This is definitely the most detailed world I have ever spent time on. It's shaping up pretty nice too.

Influences
It's funny where I get my influences for this story. The word "brind" simply came from the word "hind" which is a deer. I don't exactly remember when I settled on the word itself, but there were always going to be types or breeds.
The first four were based completely off some random drawings I did of the creatures. Unicorn folk that I just thought looked pretty. White, Water, Fire and Iron were the first four and the only four for a long, long time. (Of course I just used the Latin terms for the word and stuck it onto the word brind to make the different breed names.)

Originally there were going to be four islands, one full of cat people because I was writing this with my sister and she was reading the "Warriors" series at the time.

The sheep people were also my sisters idea, instead of having traditional fauns. There was also going to be fox people and wolf people, but that got nixed.

Elves and Fae have always been a part of my stories somehow. I take a very strong Tolkien/every-generic-fantasy take to my elves and fae. I always have. I've read some traditional fairy stories and these are just more fun to write and draw.

The magic in the world is not very obvious and I always downplayed on magic in my stories. Generally, I find magic is used as a loophole for easy explanation. I tend to prefer fantasy novels without strong use of magic, because magic tends to be abused. There are no laws...except for that Mercedes Lackey/James Mallory series that I read. I liked that system...but it was still abused. Narnia, Tolkein, and so on have magic as an undertheme, it was always something supernatural that could only be performed by supernatural. It also made the magic seem more common place and not something special like in Harry Potter. Magic was special even though it was common place in the "wizard world".

In MSK the comic, magic was visually there because it made things pretty. That's the only reason that I really cared about magic for that comic. In the novel on the other hand, magic was explained to be a natural phenomenon in elves and their technology. And that is only because the elves were originally extraterrestrials. Yes...something I never explained in my novels but had in the back of my head. It's silly but I like my alien elves. Lucius is an alien. :D

Back on topic, my point is that magic feels like cheating. So for this I tried to keep the "magic" as believable as possible. The only stretch I made was with shape-shifting. There's just no way to trot around that and say it's NOT magic. (Unless you go with INSTA-EVOLUTION. Available at WalMary).
So I went with things that seemed "natural".
Miracles are natural...they are...okay so they're a bit supernatural but that felt more believable than magic. Why? Because they occur in the real world (whether you believe it or not). Blind can see, lame can walk and the raising of the dead. It happens.
Withstanding heat and so forth seem very natural things. Healing is a very natural process.
I've also limited it to one creature that can truly perform "magic".




Monday, July 21, 2008

Literary Process - Brind Song

Another novel series I've begun developing based on some artwork I've been doing recently and the story I tried to co-author with my sister.
I've divided it up into Four Books so far.

Over the course of a few years I've been developing the world and culture of the planet...which needs a name still. The countries have names, but not the world.
I've got a good handle on the various cultures and creatures in the world including their government type, who their leaders are, the primary religion, the sort of religion that is, distinctive features, and various alliances.

This called for a huge long list of characters. Which I've got all in a document.
Some are more developed than others since they were a part of the "original" tale.

Book 1 I intend to be the story that my sister and I never finished. That's where it starts. It gives a narrow view of the world and situation from the eyes of a child.

Book 2 is set elsewhere and takes a more macro-view of the situation through the eyes of some adults. There is some overlap between Book 1 and Book 2.

Book 3 is another micro-view but from the eyes of an adult behind "enemy lines". There will be some overlap between book 2 and book 3.

Book 4 is the culmination of all three stories as they come together in a climax bringing resolution for all!

I've also written a Creation Myth for the world which stems from the major religion of the world. It's a good way to set the stage I think for all the books. :)

Awhile ago I wrote a bestiary describing all the fauna on the planet.

I've been continually writing out the abilities and culture of the brinds since it is growing more complex with every attempt at this story.

Literary Process - Eggworld

Last night I spent more time brainstorming on my "Egg World" story and have sketched out three basic "Acts" or chapters to draw.

Act 1: is the Creation story and events leading up to the "hatching".
The 7 Eldest divide into factions over the sayings of the youngest who is a prophet.

Act 2: is the beginning of civilization that happens immediately after the hatching.
The faction still exists so there is the first war.

Act 3: is the beginning of domestic trouble.
There are no more factions but their is one Eldest who feels left out of the group.
We have our first affair! :D

So far I've only conceptualized the 7 eldest characters. (They're not even developed yet.)
I still need to flesh out a few new characters to add.

And I need a new title. Eggworld is stupid. That's just a working title.
Let's brainstorm some new titles based on themes in the story so far.
Themes: Birth, Origins, Eldest, Wonder, Hatching
Title Ideas: Seven (it was the name of an old, old comic concept I had with the 7 archangels.)
The Eldest
Hatchlings
Seven Elders
Wonders Origin
Origin Wonders

I like Seven so far...it's kind of cryptic.
the Eldest is the name of a terrible book.
Wonders Origin is okay.
Hatchlings is lame, yet descriptive.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Brainstorm: Egg

I'm not sure what I will do with this idea. It may become a game or it may become a comic or novel. Probably a comic. It'll be fun.

A world growing inside an egg that is almost ready to hatch. Such a process that will change the structure and peoples dwelling/growing on it.


Terra-Angels are human like beings with feathered wings. Within the embryo world of the egg, Terra-Angels can fly regardless of their wing-span. The size of wings denotes the greatness of heart which can grow or shrink throughout the course of life. Terra-Angels may look masculine or feminine, but they have no sex and can not reproduce. The egg world has merely been producing them. However, it has been a long time since the birth of a Terra-Angel...which means the world is about ready to hatch...which will change the appearance and everything they know to be true.

There are 7 eldest Terra-Angels. They were the first 7 to be born and as such were given authority. Their role is shepherd-like since the world is abundant there is no need to regulate. The youngest of the 7 is also a prophet. She has been hearing the birth pangs of the world. The 7 elders have to prepare the rest of the "children" for the birth of the new world. Change is never easy. Some of the Eldest are reluctant to accept the change. The Eldest are split into 2 factions...there is only one who sides with neither.

The seven eldest are named after the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Wisdom is the first born. She is robed in light. Her wings are white, hair is white and eyes are white. (Reason: What to believe)

Knowledge (Reason: How to Act) is the second born. He is robed with earth. His wings, hair and eyes are brown.

Counsel is the third born. (Right Judgment) She is robed with cloud. Her wings and hair are grey. Her eyes are clear blue.

Fortitude is the fourth born. (Courage). He is robed with flame. His wings and eyes are gold. His hair is blond.

Understanding is the fifth born. (Common Sense). She is robed with forest. Her wings are brown. Her hair is black. Her eyes are green.

Piety is the sixth born. (ability to worship God). He is robed in water. His wings are white. His hair is black. His eyes are blue.

Wonder is the youngest. The seventh born. (Fear of the Lord). She is robed in flowers and stars. Her hair is red. One wing is white and the other is gold. One eye is honey-brown and the other is blue. She is a prophet.

The Silent Hero

In RPGs (and other genres too) there are two types of heroes: the silent type and Story Type.
Mind you these are only MY terms that I will use throughout this article.

Silence is Golden
The silent hero seems to always silently concede to whatever the story says or supposedly respond to any question addressed to him/her. Link and Mario are some of the more obvious silent heroes. Although Mario and Link make "noises", they do not respond verbally to any dialog aimed at them. (In recent 3D games they have started gesturing). Dialog with NPCs and cutscenes always feel one-sided.

Some of the benefits of using the Silent Hero is that you never put words into the players mouth. This is to say that the player IS the hero. The silent hero does not have a bold personality per se, because that portion is suppose to be filled in by the player. In a yes or no situation, it IS the player saying yes or no. In a way, a silent hero is easier to relate to because his dialog is not showing off any personality.

The disadvantage of course is the one sided conversations which can feel a bit off. It seems as if all the NPCs assumed your response and can talk for centuries while you just listen not saying anything.

Story Heroes
These are story characters that a game designer developed for a specific role in the story. The player may or may not relate to that character. It all depends on the personality of the character. Still, it puts the player in the position of playing a hero that is NOT them. If we use language of literature, the player plays from a 3rd person view instead of a 1st person view that a silent hero can allow.

The benefits of the story hero is that NPC conversations are not one sided. Players can grow to like and relate to a well-developed character. The character's growth throughout the game story is visible or more obvious. It also allows for voice acting.

The disadvantages are almost the opposite of what a silent hero provides. It puts words in the player's mouth. The player might feel left out of the game, as if their choices in the game did not matter. There is always a danger of the character estranging the player from the game.

Which is better?
It is up to the game designer, since neither is really better or worse over all. It all fixes on the purpose of the game. Stories can be portrayed through both a silent hero or a story hero. The experience that a player gets is what matters.
Story Heroes are very popular. Like a hero in a book or movie, the player chooses to relate or not based on the character's actions and behavior within the story.

NPCs
The relation and dialog between the hero and non-player characters (NPCs) is a key element in an RPG game. In the story hero case, the conversation is two-way. The NPC says something and the hero has a predetermine response. Sometimes input from the player can change the flow of conversation using branching dialog.

For the silent hero, the dialog is one sided. It is not a simulated conversation at all really. The NPC will rattle on and on, only pausing every so often for a yes or no response. (Usually the response HAS to be yes to continue with the game.) The NPC will continue to spout dialog to the simple "yes" response as if the hero had agreed to ALL the terms of their quest. The other thing that happens for a silent hero is having a talkative NPC partner. They might do some of your talking for you.

Final Thoughts
I normally have a preference for a story character. But this is because, as I mentioned before, that I have narrative motives when I play a game. I'm playing for the story. If the characters are obnoxious or a personality I don't like then I usually do put the game down.
I don't mind the silent hero because it has it's benefits.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Player-Centric Design

Player centric design for games means keeping your audience in mind and designing for them.
While making a hobby game, it is perfectly acceptable to make a game that interests YOU.
This method is designer-centric. You make a game you like and hope others will like it.

MOTIVATION
Different player types are usually driven by what motivates them to play or continue playing.
Motives can be things like high score, beating level 1, playing the story, exploring the world, playing with friends, competition, stress relief, or combating boredom.

These motivations in turn affect what sort of games the player likes to play. A player motivated by story and exploring a world would probably enjoy an adventure game. Likewise, a player interested in stress relief or relieving boredom or trying to relax may want to play a puzzle game or arcade game. Something that does not require too much focus or hard concentration.

Here are some more samples of Motivation for playing a game:
  • Entertainment (relieving boredom)
  • Relaxation
  • Social Activity
  • Completing All Obstacles
  • Obtaining the Highest Score
  • Narrative (interest in story, characters and worlds)
  • Exploration (both physical and psychological)
  • Role Play (Part of the personal exploration.)
  • Competition
  • Cooperation
  • The Gaming Experience (entering the "flow" state/Immersion)
  • Social Status (reaching a high level in an MMO for example)
There are of course many more ways to describe motives for playing. This is just to get started.

PLAYER TYPES
There are several theorists that divide players into certain types based on their motivation. Bartle's model is wide-spread as a model for MMO games. However, this is not enough to aptly describe a player. It is better to think of various motives instead. Bartle's model is mostly related to MUDs (the old-fashioned MMO). Here are some samples of player types that I have come up with.

Hard-Core Gamer - plays for long periods of time, high hand-eye coordination, motivated by being highly skilled, looks for a challenge, plays many games.

Casual Gamer - plays for short periods of time, motivated by game experience, looks for quick satisfaction, has not played many games.

Narrative Player - motivated by game story and characters, looks for rich worlds and narrative, prefers an easy challenge to progress in story.

Active Player - motivated by immersion into the game, plays for long periods of time, looks for rich narrative elements and challenge.

Passive Player - motivated by the effects of game play (stress relief), looks for gameplay elements, sometimes motivated by narrative arcs, likes patterns

Social Player - motivated by social aspects of gaming such as showing off scores, playing with people, competition or cooperation.

Non-Gamer - motivated by quick completion of goals in a game, easy instruction, low hand-eye coordination, low pressure situations, positive feedback, has not played many video games.

New Gamer - quick understanding of rules and controls, exploration of possibilities, low pressure, positive feedback, low hand-eye coordination, easily recognized patterns.

TYPES OF FUN
Nicole Lazzaro, Founder of XEO design and an expert on player experience wrote a report about the four keys to fun. They are Hard Fun, Easy Fun, Serious Fun (oxymoron!), and People Fun (or social fun).

Hard fun refers to overcoming a challenge. This is exciting for a player to experience and satisfying.

Easy fun is about curiosity and exploring possibilities. This is more about the visuals, the story, and the environment.

Serious Fun is when a player uses a game to evoke a feeling, sometimes stress relief. It's a way to relax.

People fun means games are social. Whether it is multi-player in nature OR you are able to share your experiences with friends.

This is important to remember because games are suppose to be fun. There are aspects in a game that cater more to one than another. Also certain player types probably enjoy more of one type of fun than another. For example, a "hardcore" player probably enjoys Hard Fun more than Easy Fun.

GENRES
Certain types of players tend to be attracted to specific genres of games. Just as certain people have preferences for genres in books or movies.

Role-Playing (RPG) refers to any game in which you take on a role. Well, this could be any game you play a character in really. However, RPG is often associated or coupled with another genre: adventure. RPG/Adventure games are most likely what you will create with RPG maker. These are games that have strong narrative influences.

First Person Shooter (FPS) are games that often take a first person view. Usually these are war games. The camera is not giving the player a view of the character, only what the character sees.

Real-Time Strategy (RTS) are games like Starcraft, Age of Empires and Civilizations. It is all about managing resources and developing a strategy to win a war, thrive, or expand empires.

Arcade Style blankets many older 2D games such as Space Invaders, Frogger, and the like.

Simulation should remind you of Flight Simulator or the Sims series. Some theorists argue that these are not technically games, but we won't delve into that. Simulation reproduces an experience in a digital form, such a flying a plane or running your own Zoo or raising a pet dog.

Casual is a fairly newish genre consisting of online games, puzzle games and the like. They are quick to play, easy to learn and addicting. One of the more famous examples is Diner Dash.

Rhythm/Music is a relatively new genre as well. The advent of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. The only other game (that I remember) having special controllers was a Nintendo Track game where you had to stomp on a running pad.

Collector-style games are what I call the Pokemon series. It is an RPG/Adventure as well. You could also file the Yu-Gi-Oh series under this.

Racing games are pretty obvious. You're either behind the wheel of a car, on the back of a horse, or steering a Pod-racer.

Massive Multi-Player Online Game (MMO, MMOG, MMORPG) are online games that have thousands or millions of players connected to play a game. Often this is coupled with the RPG/Adventure genre, however FPS also have online play features. There are also casual. World of Warcraft is the obvious example of an MMO.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Game Research

Researching For a Game

Most of the research done before making a game is thinking about other games you have played before. This is the easiest and most basic form of research...it's called experience. (:D)
This is actually very important in my experience trying to make a game or plan a game with a non-gamer. (Let me tell you, it was very frustrating. Mostly there was a language barrier.)

System Research
Diversity is important. Being familiar with many different types of game mechanics will help you in the creation of your own game. I'm not just talking about digital games, I do also mean card games, board games and social games. Think about the rules of some board games. Think about the rules of those games when they were translated to a computer game. Consider playing Monopoly with the physical board against a friend versus playing it on the computer against AI.

What this should do is make you think about aspects of the game you are making. When making an RPG, think of table top Dungeons & Dragons. After creating a character, things such as attacks and defense and various other actions are based on rolling dice. Similar things happen in an RPG game in some battle systems. However, it's usually not as random as rolling a die. The randomness should favor the player.

Game Balance
This is a term used by gamers to describe how the various mechanics work together throughout the game. If they work well together and the difficulty matches the player's skill, then the game is well-balanced. A sudden spike in level difficulty or a battle system that seems to work against the player's favor are considered unbalanced.

The term also covers various other aspects of the game design. Things like special features for instance can be balanced or unbalanced. If you have too many special features it can crowd the game and over-whelm the player.

A game that I've played that has this problem is "Okami" for the PlayStation 2. Many symbols show up on the screen that I don't know the meaning of. There are several sub-screens for various inventory. And several "modes" that I need to go into during battle. That's a lot to keep track of. I need the manual with me most of the time to reference what icons on the screen mean.

Giving your game lots of features doesn't make it more challenging, it makes it not fun...which is the primary goal of the game: to provide entertainment.

Story Research
This element may seem like fluff, but it really works when dreaming up different features. Authors, Comic Artists and Filmmakers all do research on the subject they are producing. For example for a story about horses it would be a good idea to learn various terms associated with the animal. If you call your male horse a mare, then chances are you need research before you are laughed at. (I've read an instance where an editor read such a thing by an author.)

If you have a world based off medieval fantasy, do some research about the time period.
If you have certain weapons in your game, check out specifics about that weapon, like how much it weighs.
If there is some mythological creatures in your game, read their original myths.

It will help your story in the long run if you learn a bit about the world you are trying to create. You may find out something interesting that you never knew before than can be added to the game.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Thoughts on Interactivity and Cutscenes

A short dialog on balancing storytelling with gameplay.
Thoughts on Interactivity, Stories and Games

Often I find while playing a game, I am interested in learning what story it has to tell. I have narrative motives to my game play. But games are not really a story TELLING device, but a story PLAYING device. What I mean is that games are interactive. It should respond to player input, unlike a movie where no matter what you do the story will not change.

In the Game Design Review blog, it had a section that struck me as gold! It was comparing a remake of a game with the original. The original version of the game, you arrived with your female companion at a regular looking castle only to have your companion kidnapped during the night. It came as a surprise to a player that their companion was gone and provided motivation or guilt. In the remake, the inn was surrounded by an ominous gate and even had an NPC mention that sometimes guests go missing.

The remake used a film technique of setting the mood. What would happen to the characters was inevitable. Only in a game, a player is not passively watching their character march into a haunted inn. The player is actively moving that character. So now I will write a bit about player choice and linear stories.

LINEAR STORIES
The idea of a linear story is that there is a beginning and an end. Events lead the character from point A to point Z in a chronological or logical order. In this type of game story, the designer is leading the player along. The trap is to be like a film director that drags a viewer along. No amount of input from the audience will change the outcome of a film. It is a finite medium.
Games are not necessarily AS finite. You can replay a game differently than you did the first time.

So now the discussion is, how does a game designer LEAD or GUIDE a player down the linear path? Is there only ONE path to the end?

HOW STORIES WORK WITH GAMES
In RPG adventure games, a story makes the game different from any other in the genre. Most of them have the same style of gameplay, so it would seem that people do not buy the games for new and exciting systems, but for characters and stories.

The story or drama in the game provides another layer of entertainment value. Because although the designer may have a story to tell, the player can be co-author of their own adventure.

Let’s take for example Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. There is no pressure to get through the main story. There is nothing stopping the player from exploring various parts of the world, finding hidden holes, taking side quests or playing mini-games. It only tells the story during cut scenes before and after major dungeons. While the cut scenes are a drama to the story, it is also instruction for the player. It is presented in such a way that the player is entertained but they still have a choice to go forward or go fishing.

CUT SCENES STRATEGY

Cut scenes and dialog exchange are the only methods games have of presenting story elements to the player. In more recent games they are becoming more and more cinematic. Here are some methods, using game examples.

Chapter by Chapter method
This method is most like a book. Sometimes the game itself is divided up into Acts or Books to emphasize this point. Basically what happens is you get your opening cut scene, then you play for a bit, when you reach the end of the action you get another cutscene.
My example for this would be Odin Sphere. You are playing characters in a story that a girl is reading. A cutscene happens before the level, before the boss battle, after the boss battle, and sometimes again after that. There was very little time to actually be playing.

This is good if you want to lock your player into one linear path. However, it does not give the player much freedom. You have boxed their playtime between cutscenes.

Plot Point Method
This is only slightly different that chapter by chapter. It is a still a stop and go method. There are still cutscenes before major battles and dungeons. However, it allows more exploration. Unlike chapter by chapter, once you watch the cutscene you are free to explore the dungeon or go back to the overworld.
There are many examples for this method. My Legend of Zelda example is one.

This method is probably the most used. It is a good method if you are trying to portray a plot but still give the player freedom to act. You are only guiding the player towards an action.

Random
I’ve only seen this once where you found triggers and an optional cutscene would play giving more character interactions that had nothing to do with the story but COULD affect outcomes in the game due to relationships.

PLACES TO PUT CUT SCENES

It is important to keep in mind where you are placing cut scenes. Any situation that needs an introduction is a suitable reason for a cutscene. Some games, this happens before a boss fight. This is expected but it can become an annoyance if the player as to replay that cut scene every time he/she fails to defeat that boss. This can be forgivable if the cut scene is short, but in particular scenes before battles should be only viewed once. Having a save option right after the cut scene or having a skip feature can help with this.

Introductions is one reason for a cut scene, explanations is another. Aftermath seems to be pretty popular as well. Aftermath is something to be wary of since it only happens after a battle or completing a dungeon. Is it a restating of things the characters have already done or is it an explanation for the next step. Restating the obvious is a waste of the player’s time.
Hero: "We have defeated the Evil Lord".
(yes...we know...we were there. We actually did it ourselves you mindless dweeb!)

Remember cutscenes should be used for: Introductions, explanations, and results of actions that are not apparent.

STYLES OF CUTSCENES

Many commercial games have gone very cinematic in cutscene presentation. They are high-definition graphics meant to dazzle the player. Recently, the characters in the cinematic scenes are translated directly as the playable game character. Not too long ago, there was a visible different between the playable graphics and the cutscene graphics. (Make note on Tidus' hair, face, and chest.)

The trend is to use the playable graphics in cutscenes which makes sense especially for an indy game designer.

In commercial games, there are also instances of full-blown cutscenes and minor cutscenes. The major cutscenes are dramatized 3D animation spectacles with voice acting. Minor cutscenes may just be word bubbles or screens. NeverWinter Nights 2 ToolKit program offers such differences in how dialog is presented. One uses the NWN2 Engine which allows control of the camera angle, character animation and expression to be associated with certain lines of text. The other uses the NWN1 Engine which appears as a block of text with the characters avatar in the corner (optional). It did not really allow for a flexible camera control.

RPG Maker Cutscenes
Rpg Maker, regardless of the version, limits you to using 2D pixel graphics and one camera angle. This is one limitation of the program. But you can still make delightful cutscenes with it. Older 2D games provide good examples. One of my favorites is the Sailor Moon RPG. The sprites had various expressions and moved around the screen during a cutscene.

Another good example is Summon Knight Swordcraft Story. The sprites not only animate but the avatars of the character's change expressions. This makes up for limited sprite movement on the screen.

Here are some key things to remember about Cutscenes in RPG Makers.
  • Visually appealing - since you're using in game graphics this won't be hard, but make sure the scene as a whole is not "too busy".
  • Movement - make the sprites animate and move around a little. Make it interesting to look at.
  • Signify the Speaker - Using an avatar or the character's name in the text box clarifies who is speaking during a cutscene. It's hard to tell if there are no mouths moving.
  • Make Scenes Skipable - This makes sense if you have scenes before or after boss battles that you don't need to sit through.
CLOSING THOUGHTS
Cutscenes are not interactive. It stops the action of the game and takes control away from the player. However, it is the easiest way to tell a story in a game. It use to be that if you wanted back story, you read the manual. For example, the original Legend of Zelda, you receive a wooden sword and shield from an old man in a cave at the beginning and that was all the back story you got in-game. The player was give no direction on where to go or any motive to complete actions. The manual that came with the game told you where to go first and why.

Obviously, this method was not very appealing. Players do want a little direction, they do expect a bit of story. How much freedom you give them after the main introduction is up to you.

Having options within the cutscene that affect the storyline is very popular and a way to make cutscenes more interactive.