Stories in Games

I recently purchased this game called Her Story. It is one of the more unique experiments in gaming I have recently come across. I was rather disappointed in this game, but I would still highly recommend purchasing it. It’s only $5.99 on Steam. The reason why I am disappointed is not because it was less than what I expected, but because I wanted more than what was ultimately offered. When I first heard about this game, it brought back memories of the games Myst, The 7th Guest, and even Sim City. Her Story is very much a story driven game; the story literally drives you forward to find out more. I haven’t really had a feeling like that in games since Myst and The 7th Guest. The problem I had with Her Story is that it leaves so many questions unanswered that when I finished, I wasn’t sure that there was a resolution. In Myst, you are left with an ultimate choice at the end of the game, and there is a very clear finality. In The 7th Guest, the story ends in almost biblical proportions. In Her Story, you are left wanting more. There is no grand climax, no choice you have to make to affect the outcome, no input from the player to make things right or at least different. It is intentionally a game with no outcome or win/lose state, which brings me to why it reminds me of Sim City. Sim City is arguably not a game, it is a toy. You play Sim City until you are bored and destroy the city you made, or you build out to the edges of the map, or you turn on disasters and see if your city can survive. There is no real win/lose state in Sim City. You just play it until you are done.

I started playing Titan Souls not too long ago. I soon realized that it was a lot more fun playing this game with friends, swapping the controllers between people than playing this game by yourself. You go through this top-down world killing boss monsters, similar to Shadow of the Colossus. It is very easy to die in this game; one hit and you are done. When you defeat a boss, you feel victorious. That feeling is amplified when sharing that victory with friends.

Today, I came across this Ted Talk about Genius. It was fascinating. Playing Her Story rekindled something in me that I have left dormant for a long time. My initial interest in games was the idea that you are capable of harnessing an experience and making it your own, whether it be a story, an adventure, or even playing with a toy. You can build almost anything out of legos, but you are ultimately limited to the pieces you have, and depending on what you build, the physics of the real world. In Minecraft, and hopefully Lego’s new game that they are coming out with, those limitations are not there. You practially have an infinite world to build upon. You can read a book, but the ending will always be the same. The Stanley Parable has various endings, all based off of decisions you make throughout the game. I know there are exceptions to these examples, but this is why I am so fascinated with the process of making video games.

So, after playing Her Story, and Titan Souls, and watching that Ted Talk, I feel like I am at a cross roads of sorts. I have ideas bubbling, primordial in nature, ideas not looked at since I was in grade school. These ideas are not even ideas anymore, they are more like feelings:twinges in the gut, fear and anticipation and excitement swirling around in a cauldron of hesitation. They have scuttled deep into my psyche. They have no language, no words to which to be expressed. A sleeping dragon is a good metaphor for what this is, but it is no dragon. It is indescribable, like color to the blind, or the sound of a bird to the deaf. I await my genius, my muse to use these feelings and channel it into something great, and I will be ready.

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Technology and the Creative Mind

I am starting this post with an epiphany that I just had in the bathroom. It’s a little odd to have your most elegant and profound ideas within a bathroom, but I know I am not the only one to have them there. Have you ever figured out how to solve a problem, or come up with a novel idea while taking a shower? Perhaps you were working on a crossword or sudoku puzzle, put it down for a minute, then picked it back up only to realize what you needed to do to solve it?

My epiphany is this: The undistracted mind will sow the seeds of creativity. This got me immediately thinking about what distracts the mind. I realized this when I was not on my phone. I like keeping up with my friends and family through Facebook. I like reading updates on things through Twitter. I like playing games on my phone. All these things I do distract me from being bored, even if for a moment. You can expand these distractions to browsing on the internet, watching TV, listening to the radio, etc. Technology can hamper the creative mind if it is used to distract it.

I’m not going to “go dark”, so to speak, after making this realization. I am going to be more mindful of it when I need to be creative, or want to try and solve some seemingly impossible problem. I know you cannot force this process, but you can give yourself more opportunities to have creative ideas. I am going to give my mind more opportunities to be undistracted, so it has a chance to speak to me.

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Fate Core Character Ideas

I have been toying with the idea of running a Fate Core game for some time now. I love the system in how there are not many rules compared to most other systems, and I especially love the idea of building the world as a collaborative effort with the other people who would be playing in your game.

I decided to make some character concepts as an exercise, and I think it worked out pretty well. I started with looking at the different classes that Pathfinder has. There is the Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcer, and Wizard. I decided to make a character for each class. I then put down the character name, high concept, trouble, and best skill for each character. I also decided to merge Sorcerer and Wizard since they are practically the same thing, and I couldn’t come up with a good Druid idea. Here’s what I came up with:

Name: Bill “Boot Stomp” Biggins
High Concept: Daring Swordsman
Trouble: I can be a little too daring…
Best Skill: Fight
 
Name: Brother John
High Concept: High Priest of the Sun God
Trouble: Even the purest have skeletons in their closet.
Best Skill: Lore
 
Name: James “Needlefingers” of the East Alley
High Concept: Master Thief
Trouble: Curiosity opens doors.
Best Skill: Burglary
 
Name: Star Blanket of the North Sky
High Concept: Barbarian of the North Tribe
Trouble: The Laws of the Wild trump the Laws of Man
Best Skill: Physique
 
Name: Jack “All Trades” Wind
High Concept: Travelling Minstrel
Trouble: Compulsive Liar, especially with tall tales
Best Skill: Deceive
 
Name: Bruno Kang
High Concept: Monk in the Order of the White Dragon
Trouble: Pacifistic tendencies
Best Skill: Fight
 
Name: Frederick Von Haim
High Concept: Holy Knight of the North Kingdom
Trouble: My God is better than your God
Best Skill: Rapport
 
Name: Tom Darkleaf
High Concept: Reclusive Bow Hunter
Trouble: Finds it difficult to adjust to city life
Best Skill: Shoot
 
Name: Arcus the Great
High Concept: High Sorcerer of the North Kingdom
Trouble: Absent Minded Professor
Best Skill: Lore
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The White Wall

If ever there was a writer’s block in physical form, it would be white, it would be blank, and would likely be the size of a sheet of paper. I have plenty of ideas. Some I share, but most stay well within my mind. They aren’t even waiting to come out anymore. It’s like they run free in my head right before I am about to fall asleep, or am in the middle of something important. As soon as I sit down and open this or any other form of writing up, it is as if my ideas shy away and hide within the deep recesses of my mind. The blank white sheet of paper (or WordPress post, whatever) is my block in physical form. I’ve tried writing my ideas down as one-liners, but there’s so much more that could be said. When I try to write more than one line, it becomes difficult to find the words to describe my ideas to my satisfaction. If I try to force myself to write something, anything, I never go back to the subject I wanted to write about in the first place. I know writing is a trained skill; you cannot pick it up one day and expect to be Stephen King. I have these great tools at my fingertips, but I don’t know how to use them well. All I can do is chip away at the white wall with my untrained hands using a small, dull chisel, and hope that by the time I have chipped away a hole small enough for me to see through it, I will be prepared to really put my ideas down on paper the way I want others to see them.

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Found some new writing exercises

http://www.languageisavirus.com

The site above has a ton of different writing exercises. Looks interesting.

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Writing Exercise (a changeup)

I am currently out of ideas for characters and items to write about. I gave myself the weekend, and I am still drawing a blank with this exercise. Instead of trying to force the issue, or worse, ignore it altogether, I am going to write a little on why I decided to do this exercise and how I feel about it. I may not cover all the bases, but that is fine. The intent of this very post is to just get me writing something. I am not a practiced writer. I never really liked the chore of doing it, and it is a chore for me. Everything from emails, to note taking, to thank you cards I have never liked the act of writing. I have always liked the outcome of what I write; however, getting to that point has never been easy for me. Since I am a computer programmer by trade, I write tons of stuff every day. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that programming is easier than writing, but I don’t have as many mental blocks writing code as I do writing a story. I never really took notes when I was in school. I usually did really well in tests. I hated book reports when I was in school. I am doing this because I want to change this aspect about myself. I don’t want to have as much difficulty writing stuff down on paper, so I can free it from my mind. There is one writing technique that I have tried before with some success called free writing. You basically write whatever comes to mind for a set amount of time. Technically, there is no failure; if you didn’t write anything down in a given time frame, you evidently had nothing come to mind. You always write something, though, even if it is literally “nothing”. I am free writing now, hence the wall of text. If any of you backed the Double Fine Adventure kickstarter, and have watched the videos of them making the game, you will notice that Tim Schafer does free writing. He has many notebooks filled. I think he does it a little different, since he is a game designer and uses that technique to come up with ideas such as title names for a game, game mechanics, character names, setting ideas, etc. I may start using this as an alternative to what I have been doing if I cannot come up with any character or item ideas.

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Writing Exercise

Characters:

  • Even heroes look forward to the weekend.
  • She batted her eyelashes and tossed her handkerchief to the ground; I was in love.
  • I ain’t ever seen a cowboy wear a pink hat before.
  • His blinding speed, and precision strikes were no match to his lumbering opponent.
  • Keep a wide berth from amateur wizards casting spells unless you don’t mind being in the fallout.

Items:

  • Explosions are pretty cool, and if anyone says otherwise, they are lying.
  • You must retrieve the amulet from the temple before the cult does or the world will end!
  • The temple towered over the jungle, and was likely older as well.
  • The volcano spewed forth a demon of ash and fire.
  • It seems to me that the reason why calculus is so difficult is mostly because of all the symbols you need to remember.

I am noticing that I am starting to have difficulty coming up with different characters and items that seem interesting. I don’t want to start writing sentences like “Superman is invincible!” or “My cup has water for me to drink.” Those are too boring, and will lead me to just stop writing like this altogether. I am only in the 3rd exercise of this experiment. Perhaps the weekend will clear my head. Even heroes look forward to the weekend.

If you know of any other writing exercises, please leave a comment!

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