Sunday, September 7, 2014

Paying it Forward

It's been a while since I've written anything here, but today my wonderful Mom encouraged me to answer some stirring questions.

What am I working on?
These days my creative projects mostly have to do with work, but when I'm not making websites and editing commercials, I still enjoy writing in my spare time. Now, I've always had a bad habit of only writing candybar scenes instead of finishing stories. In spite of this, I've finished a few, both of which will never been seen by human eyes.

Currently I'm writing a short, funny fantasy story, a sci-fi epic that I have NO idea how to write and a piece of speculative fiction that reminds me of Lost or Flash Forward. In addition to that, I'm always writing adventures for an RPG game I play with my friends, namely one based in Star Wars.

I also aspire to write something with DC superheroes, but I'm not there yet.

Super Heroes are cool. Much like bow ties.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?
The biggest difference is that most authors can write and finish their stories, whereas mine often get stuck on the drawing board.

I once had an art teacher explain to me that if I learned to draw by creating cartoons, I'd never be able to draw realistically. Similarly, since most of my writing these days takes the form of tabletop roleplaying games, I've gotten into the terrible practice of spending all of my time on world-building instead of character building. There's a tremendously good show called The Legend of Korra that has both of these in spades. It's my current inspiration for vibrant characters, personal story arcs and satisfying storytelling in general. I don't mean to oversell it, but it's one of the best shows I've ever watched, and I majored in watching television in college!

(Among other things...)

Why do I write/create what I do?
I'm fascinated by the written word simply because it can do things that movies and TV cannot: It's better at expressing emotions and feelings. You can crawl inside someone's head for a while and think like someone else.

You see, there's this odd thing that I've never quite understood; when you read words on a page, it somehow translates into images and emotions in your mind. It seems ridiculous that such a thing can even happen. Words on a page translate into real, tangible things in my mind? I can experience something as fast or slowly as I like (based on how fast I read) and there's no moving parts! At least not on the page. Books are in essence, someone's ideas and thoughts frozen and preserved on a page, ready to be absorbed at any time. Odd.

The great tragedy of the modern age is that many (in fact most) people will live and die without ever taking pleasure in reading. I'm sad that they will never find joy in it. They're content to roam the frozen tundra of television and movies, unaware of what they're missing. In fact, one of the most heartbreaking phrases in my mind is "I'll just wait for the movie."

The real reason I write? I want someone who has never taken pleasure in reading to be able to pick up something I've written and enjoy it immediately. I want people to be excited by stories the way I am. When they go to a bookstore, I want them to see stories instead of books.

How does your writing/creating process work?
More often than not, I find myself asking "what if" questions. My most recent one was based on the following observation:

Has a math teacher ever told you (with saccharine sweetness) that you need to learn how to do math on paper before you use a calculator? Otherwise, she says, you'll become dependent. You'll always need a calculator!

I asked myself the following question: What if people became so dependent on machines that we found a way to even have machines think for us? And I'm not talking about those obese people from Wall-E. Bear with me!

Imagine if you could hook your brain up to a server somewhere and it has all the academic, boring typical information learned by kids in school? Historical dates, events, mathematics, language? Instead of having to learn this stuff, you could just have it stored online. Whenever you need to remember when Washington crossed the Delaware, you just think about it and the memory is given to you by a computer. Now you can worry about other stuff. It would certainly cut down on the amount of school you'd have to do.

That's just one idea. I have many, many others. In fact, I'm so fascinated by all of them that I have a whole folder filled with them. Stories half-written, concepts half-finished. Just last week I read through all of them and actually found one I didn't remember writing, but the premise fascinated me to the point of distraction for a week. I still have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote it. The truth is, I wish I'd written more.

I just want to set someone's imagination on fire.

Friday, December 27, 2013

What Zelda Taught Me About Life

I'm very picky with my Zelda games; I prefer the ones on the Gameboy. I watched my brother play through Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, so I never felt the need to play them. Later in life, I was content to watch my sister beat Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword.

Basically, I only played the Zelda games on Gameboy because it's a very personal, private experience. It was MY adventure the same way the Harry Potter books were.

My first Gameboy Zelda love was called the Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. I look back on the game with glee. I liked everything about it. However, I have a terrible secret.

I only beat the game because I had the guide.

Because of this, I always knew where to go. The strange thing about game guides is that you quickly become completely dependent on them. When I played Seasons at the tender age of twelve (half my life ago), I remember thinking, "I'll try this dungeon without the guide." It never worked. The guide flew open the moment I felt the unpleasant rub of uncertainty.

Fast forward to 2013. Christmas day. A Link Between Worlds sits in my hands. As the game loads, I think, "there will be no guides this time."

My first moments in this new Hyrule are a little scary; I feel like a bird pushed out of its nest. I go where I'm told but I nurse a quiet longing for the comfort a walkthrough provides. Despite this, I soon find myself exploring and enjoying the sense of discovery. I realize that the game is meant to be played this way. Having a huge map of every area with all the secrets exposed isn't fun; it's a chore. This is an adventure game, after all. If you take away the adventure, what the heck is the point?

It's kinda like skipping to the last page of a book.

In many ways, playing the game blind is similar to real life; sometimes I feel that I don't know where I'm going or what I'm supposed to be doing. There's a slight sense of being lost or overwhelmed in life, but learning how to push back against uncertainty is a big part of growing up.

When I was twelve, I craved the omniscient guiding hand of a walkthrough. Now I know that uncertainty, and persevering in spite of it, is what really separates adults from children.

Plus, the game is really fun.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Over the past few years, I've seen a certain change in my interests. Both in how I spend my time and how I regard life in general. For instance, since summer camp '12, I value time with friends much more highly than I did before that time.

I don't play as many video games as I used to. When I was fifteen, I was playing at least eight hours of WoW every day. These days, I'd often rather be working. Sure, I still play several hours of video games every week (and the fact that I'm counting "per week" should tell you something), but I also value my time spent reading things on the internet. It's not as glamorous, say, as killing Ragnaros, but reading news is just something I enjoy now.

Today I was thinking about RPGs. Since getting Edge of the Empire (and playing it, what, twice?) I've realized the golden age of RPGs in my life has passed. I'll likely never again spend several hours each week planning, discussing and playing RPGs like did in 2009-2011 (or whenever it actually was). These days, my game time is spent playing board games. Rightly so, there are several reasons I enjoy them perhaps more than RPGs.

• I don't have to prep/write anything
• I don't get upset when the week gets cancelled, because it's not a personal blow to my ego
• Other people can bring or play board games, keeping the variety level high
• Board games are games, whereas RPGs are more like a group activity

That last part might be a little contentious. A few years I would have been extremely offended by such a claim. I argue that it's true: RPGs have no winner, no clear goal, no real competition (depending on the system of course). RPGs fail to meet the exact definition of a "game." I'm not suggesting they aren't fun. Oh contraire! Many of my best memories came from playing Savage Worlds. Many in-jokes were created that have lasted to this very day.

There are certain things that can be done with one medium that simply cannot be done in another, but lately we've seen some interesting developments in the world of board gaming that has made them draw ever-closer to the beloved RPG. In fact, video games jumped on that bandwagon years ago. These days you can't shake an AR-15 without hitting a handful of military shooters, racing games or third-person shooters riddled with all manner of RPG mechanisms. Whether it's Call of Duty's amazingly fun ability to level up your soldier, unlocking new guns and perks or The Last Of Us's slow trickle of parts to upgrade your favorite weapons, the systems are here to last. Rightly so, they reward players for continued investment. They get to tweak the game in the direction they want to take it. Go ahead and try to play Unreal Tournament 2004 again, I dare you. Without the ability to level up, the player is left with an overwhelming feeling of "why waste the time?"

Can board games do the same thing? The venerable Hero Quest was Milton Bradley's answer to Dungeons and Dragons, creating a whole new genre of board game: The Dungeon Crawl. Since 1990 that genre has seen notable entries such as Lego's Heroica and Fantasy Flight's Descent, my personal favorite dungeon crawl. These games have variable amounts of customizability and player agency in regard to their character's progression, but it's a very small amount compared to a full-fledged role-playing game.

The real question is, "how much farther can we go?" board games have only really come into popularity in the last ten years or so, due in part to the fact that they've become sophisticated and interesting enough to hold the attention span of young people. For many of my gamer friends, being a gamer extends to games in all mediums, not just ones made of pixels. There is no exclusivity, and no need for it.

What new mechanics could board games borrow from RPGs, or even video games? Games like Risk Legacy introduced the novel concept of permanently changing the game board. Descent has a progressive campaign system that allows players to "level up" their characters between adventures, including purchasing equipment from shops between quests. There's a level of permanence that has previously been unseen in this world of cardboard and paper.

I'm very curious to see where the we can go.