Posts Tagged ‘gaming’

I’m a little behind so this week I’m linking in our latest podcast episode which actually doesn’t have a whole lot of me, but does get a whole lot of craft time at the end of it. I do need to throw an nsfw tag on here for the amount of swearing mike manages to do in a hours time

http://aroundthetrunk.blogspot.com/2012/09/episode-four-episode-four-redudant.html

Intro:

Tyler talks about short story idea he had.

FTL

Tyler and I discuss the FTL:Faster than light, a new steam game that came out this week. It’s only nine bucks. Go buy it.

Stuff about the Podcast while we wait for Chris

We talk about the new intros, the cover art, and Max Scoville’s Free Ipad Miley Cyrus Nudes.

Idle Banter

River World by Phillip Jose Farmer !Spoilers!

Chris finally shows up
We talk stories across different mediums and Tyler recommends Rising Stars and then proceeds to spoil it pretty thoroughly, so check it out.

I talk about a comic Idea I was playing with and move into a discussion about writing in comics as a medium.

Then we talk Movies, TV, HBO

Part Two

Tyler leaves, we continues talking game of thrones and move into a discussion of chapter formats.
We then talk about characters, their motivations and backgrounds informing their dialog and
actions without resorting to exposition dumping.

We also talk about Microsoft one note for a bit. We then get back to characters and give some our examples from our own writing.

We talk about stories and arcs and a bunch of writing craft related things. There is a discussion of easter eggs, and the difference between theft and homage. Narration in other mediums, Burn Notice
and actors playing characters. We then finish up with a light discussion of Doctor Who Companions.

The Archetype has come together with Nightmares of a writer to produce a podcast with a mutual friend of ours. We covered multiple games, time travel, history and superpowers. If these things interest you click here and give us a listen.

 

Time travel in storytelling is almost as old as it is confusing, early writings pop up in Hindu mythology with the story of king Kakudmi who travels through time after moving to another plane of existence and back.  The king finds he’s traveled ages into the future and all of his friends and family dead, this is just one of many old stories that show up with men traveling to the future in various ways.

Time Travel to the past is more recent idea that only started to show up in early 1800’s With first story being told by a Russian author Alexander Veltman who wrote about going back in time to meet Aristotle and Alexander the Great.

But enough about History let’s get into the good stuff. What makes time travel interesting is hard to pin down when you take into consideration how it’s used. Is time travel your heroes superpower? Is it a one time thing? Can you control it with a time machine or is a random thing?


Does it require you to get to 88mph

Time Travel primarily functions in one of two ways in fiction, one is as a setting where the lead character and company travel to different periods of time to go about there story. The second and more confusing way is as a plot device which can and usually does include time travel as a setting but also as device to give the story more depth and complexity.

Time Travel as a Setting

Time travel as a setting is best favored by fiction that follows an episodic narrative. This format for time travel is widely used cartoons, Live action shows, comics and any other media where the setting can be changed from episode to episode and the time travel itself is just a means of changing that setting. This may not be the first thing that come to your mind when you think of time travel but it is the most common as it’s often feature in children’s cartoons like Phineas and Ferb where inventing a time machine was really just another way to have an adventure, while most cartoons only used this form of time travel as one shot gimmick for that weeks episode, some cartoons built this version of time travel as their shows engine for moving the story.

Flint the Time Detective - Can't We All Get Along? (DVD) Cover Art
If you don’t remember this then your not old enough to use the internet

Flint The Time detective was a show that followed the evolving monster models that Pokemon had already established, Flint was a boy who traveled far and wide to catch monsters. Sound familiar, what set flint apart from it’s contemporaries was it’s driving gimmick, time travel. Flint was a cavema… caveboy and each episode had him travel through time trying to hunt down different cute and quirky monsters. Without time travel as a setting Flint would have never gotten off the ground. It also needs to be pointed out that this format hasn’t been restricted to kid’s cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featured a video game based around time travel as a setting called Turtles in Time where each level was placed in a different era in time. Maybe more famously the 2005 re-boot of Doctor Who heavily featured this in it’s first season and still does now, thought it grew more complex as the show went on.

When done well this form of time travel can be used to produce interesting characters and settings to help enrich your story, however some authors tend to rely on the gimmick as a way of making there story interesting instead of using it to help create interesting characters and places. Once again I’m going to turn back to Doctor Who  primarily the first season of the reboot where the Time Travel was used mostly as means of putting the Doctor and his companion into different settings like a space station orbiting a dying earth or elizabethan England. The early episodes featured fantastical places but had poorly developed characters. While the Doctor was plenty interesting, Rose Tyler suffered early on in the series, and her mother and ex-boyfriend never became more then buzzing noise in the audience’s ears as they tried to watch the show. Russel T. Davies, the shows main writer at the time, leaned heavily on his settings and forgot to  make interesting characters and regardless of where in time your fiction is taking place, if the people in it or boring the rest of the story will be as well.


But all will be forgiven if they bring back Jack

Time Travel as a Plot Device

Time travel as a plot device is often more confusing and far more prone to abuse.  In it’s plot device form is easily applicable to all forms of fiction and media, and while it can used different ways by different writers the main similarity is that it is a constant and controllable device that is used for more then just shuttling characters from place to place.

But what separates the good from the bad? The mark of an author using time travel well is that it allows them to both create and solve problems in a unique fashion. It important to note that Time travel can be used to create trouble for the lead, if it’s only a positive force with no limitation it begins to create problems for the writer as they struggle with ways to challenge the stories lead. Limiting the leads ability to travel through time and having those same abilities used against him forces the writer to come up with creative ways solve problems and serves as an excellent way to build tension and gives the audience something worth viewing.

No one seems to do this better then the current lead writer for Doctor Who, Steven Moffat and nobodies done it better then what is possibly the most famous episode of the rebooted DW series, Blink. Spoilers ahead fellows so If you haven’t watched This particular episode of DW leave now, I mean it. Go google the episode, watch and then come back here and finish this article.Are they gone? good, okay, let’s get back to the article.


Bring me my brown pants

Blink is one of the better if not the best known DW episodes for a host of reasons, what aspiring writers want to focus on is how Moffat used time travel against the characters in the show to drive up tension and emotions. He used time travel from the beginning to ramp up tensions, first with messages from the past, then with mysterious notes and disappearing friends and then with a dying love interest. All of which happen because they were transported back in time and the same things that got them are after the shows lead sally sparrow. Moffat also used this as chance to show off the Doctor’s brilliance, instead having him sonic his way out of the situation as many a writer have done, Moffat instead chose to have the Doctor work out his problems without the use of his TARDIS and mostly off screen. By sending messages through time the slow way, by writing recording and waiting, the Doctor was able to communicate with sally sparrow so she could retrieve the TARDIS and save the day.

Another interesting thing to note about this episode is that Moffat kept the setting relativity current, with only a few scenes from the past and having most of the episode take place in the present, time travel was used strictly as a device for the characters to use to move the story forward.

While Moffat used time travel brilliantly, the most common problem with using time travel is that it get’s awfully complicated awfully quick, Moffat makes a nod toward this in Blink by the doctor try to explain time as “a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” Because of this time travel has been abused and misused on numerous occasions either leading to fridge logic, like why on earth didn’t Harry Potter just a time turner to solve everything ever or how many episodes of DW are laced with paradoxes that aren’t even attempted to be given a nod, both examples leave their viewers saying WTF?.


But.. how.. when… A Fez? This doesn’t even make sense

The problem comes from a writer looking for either a quick way out of problem they’ve landed their character in or that they were looking for a way to give their story more depth and complexity and instead just made it muddled and confusing. Your audience will like having their minds blown, they won’t like being left confused and frustrated.

Time Travel and You

As you can see time travel can get complicated, but don’t let it scare you away from writing with it. While you’ll probably blunder through it for a while you can take solace in the fact that people Like Moffat and Davies screw up even at the professional level. And don’t be afraid to let your creativity flourish, the rule of cool applies to most time travel stories and if it’s interesting enough most viewers will let it pass even if it get’s hard to understand and if they start asking to many questions just tell them “It’s complicated” and hope they don’t respond “I’m clever.”

One of the things I’ve struggled with as novice writer is defining what makes my characters awesome, what makes them interesting what makes the reader say “I could read 1000 pages about this guy and his group of rebels.” When I started out I wrote high pace action scenes and fights scenes one after another thinking these were the things that made my lead interesting. It wasn’t until I let a friend of mine read over my manuscript and tell me my fight scenes sucked. More importantly  in my review I found they weren’t interesting, they didn’t add anything to the protagonist’s character outside of the fact that he could hit people, really, really hard.

The Hulk has more character depth

What I learned from the experience was that what I was writing not what made the character and the story interesting.  However my friend was able to help me point out what was interesting, a scene prior to a fight with the protagonist analyzing the area before the battle. Afterwords I went back through my manuscript cutting most  of the major fight scenes that had dotted the book and shuffled others off screen. It helped clean up the pacing, but more importantly it gave my lead some much needed characterization and gave me a chance write more interesting scenes.

Mat Nix covered much of the same sentiment in a interview for his hit TV show Burn Notice, whose lead character Micheal Weston stars as a “Burned”(read fired) spy trying to figure out why he was burned and get his job back. The show features high speed chases, fight scenes, explosions, gun battles and romance but what really makes the show interesting is Weston’s unique approach to creative problem solving. Over the course of several episodes Weston mails a pipe bomb to his old boss, uses power tools and turpentine to disable a car full of gangsters, and convinces several really nasty people to shoot several other really nasty people. Nix picked up on this and was able to write his characters in situations that allowed their creative problem solving to flourish.

so you’re telling me this is all because they stole your yogurt.

If your still trying to figure out where this means for you, It means that if you want your characters to be interesting, then you have to give them the opportunity to do interesting things and then write them doing them. For my lead it was planning out every move in a fight the night before the fight happened, for Weston it was cutting a hole in the ceiling of a office building to steal data from there computers. But these examples don’t just apply to novel and script witting. Games and movies require this kind of writing to keep the audience sticking around, to better show you what I mean I’ve added a couple of examples from different mediums in fiction.

Gaming

let’s start with gaming, with it’s unique experience that other forms of media can’t deliver on. Gaming has evolved from the simple days of pong and text based adventure games into a variety of massive interactive experiences with as many genres and styles as any other form of art. But gaming stands on the same rule as any other form of fiction, it has to be interesting, games like the Elder Scrolls series draw people into a massive worlds full of history and details that can keep their audience entertained for days. When the games are good their quest lines immerse you in the story by giving you the hands on opportunity to be the hero that you normally only get to read in books and watch in movies. When the quests are done bad they have you trek half way across their massive world to pick up a sword only to bring it back to where you started. In gaming the audience plays the lead and it’s up to the game designer to give the players something interesting to do that compliments the leads skill set and character. If you’re planning on creating a game that offers the player the ability to spit fire and eat lighting don’t waste his time by making him bake a pie.

Even if that pie is made with Mammoth meat

Movies

Script writing for movies follows a lot of the same rules that you’d find for scripts in television, the notable difference is time constraint and cash concerns, however one thing that is often overlooked is the fact the a Movie get’s one shot at getting it right. One bad episode isn’t likely to sink a popular TV series, but movies only get one shot and a box office flop often kills plans for future installments. That’s why we see most major budget movies playing it safe sticking to the same story arcs and formulas that produce movies that people will go and see instead of searching for new and interesting scripts. So if you plan on having your script actually being shown on the big screen it can’t afford to waste time on things that aren’t what make it great.

The Movie that stands most recently for having interesting character doing interesting things is Marvel Studious Avengers, Marvel knew going into that movie that each character had been developed in there previous movies, they had all gone through their major character arcs and came out as better people. All they had to do in finale of their nearly decade long project was to shove everybody together and give them a chance do the things we loved watching them do again, Hulk smashed, Tony shot his mouth off, Capt threw his shield, Thor shot lighting, Natasha reverse interrogated a god  and Hawkey… what exactly was Hawk-eye doing again?

Staring at Scarlet Johansson apparently

The Avenger’s while not having had a complicated or stellar narrative, with only Banner having a decent character arc and Loki making for a modest villain compared to his role in Thor, was a resounding success that relied almost entirely on their interesting scenes. The most prominent ideas being “let’s have Hulk punch something big” and “let’s have hulk punch a god, no wait two gods.”

Comics

Comics have a weird combination of episodic structure and narrative perspective, all while being set in a kid’s picture book style. What that means is that comics can get that tightly contained narrative that short stories and TV shows thrive on. While producing the epic imagery that movies tend to require with the dialogue and perspective that good novels live or die by. Comics tend to be the jack of all trades and masters of none in the world of fiction, and the authors usually play this up, offering an inside view of characters’ thoughts and illustrating interesting scenes to draw the reader in. One of the best comics to display comics’ unique perspective on fiction is Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Moore was able to make the characters in his stories interesting by combining narrative perspective with impressive visuals to produce memorable scenes. Scenes like Rorschach fighting off cops with matches and hairspray or the antagonist’s scheme which I will not spoil for those who have yet to read the comic.

This is laid in contrast with the new Before Watchmen limited series which is set as a prequel to Moore’s series. While not all of the comics are wholly bad, none of them stand up to Moore’s writing. One notable comic however is bad enough to get mentioned as the example of how you can go wrong, the issue introduces the new Silk Specter who is being trained to replace her mother as  the current Specter. What could have been a classic comic that could have shown the difficulties of trying to balance the life of a superhero with the life of a teenage girl who’s trying to find her own way in the world. The writers however forgo this and instead decides to follow how the new Specter as she is picked on by the popular girls at her school and how she falls in love with the school’s top jock. With only a few interesting visual scenes drawn and even less interesting perspectives used the comic really just ends up being a more of a teenage soap opera as opposed to superhero origin story.

You can read this or you can read about a sixteen year old girl who complains about her mom.

Regardless of what medium you use for your fiction, whether it’s games or comics, fantasy or sci-fi, romance or thriller, you need to let your characters shine, cut back on the unnecessary and pile on the interesting. Whether that means your audience is going to be reading about how a master assassin hunts down and murders all of his girlfriend’s prior love interests or if they get to watch your costumed superhero  punch reality, find out what makes your characters shine and then polish them till they’re gold.  Just don’t make us read about how Batman and Robin comically try to cook scrambled eggs without Alfred’s help when we could be reading about how Batman foiled the Jokers latest scheme to turn the moon into cheese.

“My Cabbages!”

“There you are Perry.”

“Aw here it goes!”

“Note this before my notes;
There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.”

“You should come in the box”

“You tell those spiders Ron.”

“A baby’s gota do what a baby’s gota do”

Any Chance you’ve figured out what our little topic for today discussion is? I’m sure you’ve heard at least one of those before. That’s right were talking about running gags. The Inside joke of the media world though it’s been around a lot longer then what we consider media. can you place all the jokes? Answers at the bottom of the article.

A running gag when, done well, can do a couple of things like :

Help bind the plot together to give a sense of progression, the animated series “Avatar: the last Air bender” did a good job of this, The same jokes showed up in different places at different times contrasting just how far the group had come from the begging of the series, in fact a couple of their jokes have ran right into their new series for a couple of laughs.

If your like Phinease and Ferb however, the Jokes aren’t just a means of moving your story along, they are your story, This great little children’s show (Don’t Judge me) runs on a series self contained mini adventures as opposed to a long narrative arc, and it’s running jokes make the whole most of the episode and help develop characters, I mean half the show runs on the gag of a platypus constantly being secretly and oddly to spy style base of operation to fight a self proclaimed mad scientist. But it also uses it’s gags to tie it’self together reminding the watchers that thing last week happened and it’s still funny.

That’s not to say that some gags have been thrust into a show repeatedly even though they weren’t funny or well after they lost their hilarity. I’m sure you’ve seen a few of these, thinking yes Seth I like to see Peter fight a giant chicken and nearly die, I do not however want another scene of peter skinning his knee an sitting on the side walk for a minute and a half. I bad running joke is one that was funny but only becomes and nuisance or one that was never funny at all. they often lead to the feeling of wanting the show, or book or comic to move on already.

But let’s not leave on what makes a bad gag let’s leave on a good one, the thing about a good gag is that it builds on it’self, what was only mildly funny becomes increasingly entertaining. But more then anything else, the gag can’t feel obtrusive, shoe horning a gag into a plot just feels out of place and leave the audience feeling pulled out of the story. A good gag needs to use the attention it gather to drive the plot further and get a good laugh.

“My Cabbages!” Cabbage vender in Avatar: TLAB

“There you are Perry.” Phinease from phineas and ferb

“Aw here it goes!” Kel from keenan and Kel

“Note this before my notes;
There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.” Balthazar in Much ado about nothing(in Elizabethan English nothing would sound close to noting as well, the joke was in the name)

“You should come in the box” Naked Snake metal gear solid 3(a running gag through out all the major games)

“You tell those spiders Ron.” Harry speaking about Ron’s fear of spiders, which is the real gag

“A baby’s gota do what a baby’s gota do” Tommy from rugrats