480 Words | Reading Time: About 2:24 minutes
In trying to diversify Fiction Science topic-wise,I continued talking about Deep Blue Sea and added Star Wars into the mix.
Dureing my research forlast week’s video about the sharks in Deep Blue Sea I cameacross an interesting piece of concept art for a sequel that was never made. The sequel did not have the most promising of circumstances and would probably have been as bad as the one we ultimately did get, but the U.S.S. Trident is a really interesting idea for a ship specialized in handling a squad of intelligent fish.
It does have its share of problems, though. Most importantly the fact that those open pods could potentially sink the ship unless the rooms they are in are airtight.
As a sidenote, this was the first video I used hashtags on. I added them to the older videos, as well. From now on, all videos will show three hashtags on their Youtube page. These include one for Fiction Science, one for their series and one for the franchise they are talking about.
An Unpopular Opinion
In the Star Wars community, it is a safe bet to say most people who have heard of it hate the AT-HS. The A-HS or Heavy Scout Walker is a walker that was set to appear in The Last Jedi but was cut at the last moment. This resulted in the walker’s absence on screen, but a Lego set had already been produced an hit shelves alongside the movie.
It was an unusual machine even for a walker with its eight crab-like legs. A variation with even more legs did appear as a specialized hauler, though.
The Lego set did not get a warm welcome from reviewers, either. One strange thing was the wheels it had under its legs. Many questioned what the point of those was until concept art showed up in The Art of The Last Jediand it became clear that the wheels were not part of the walker design but of the Lego machenism to make the legs move.
Still, though, the wheels reminded me of a HiRail vehicle and with that in mind, this becomes the best scout walker in any of the Star Wars films. I made a video on why that is.
This is the first time I recorded original video content for one of these. Like I said in the video, I used my toy review set I have for the German channel Extra Extra. And thanks to this crossover, I got to add the Heavy Scout Walker to my glorious arachnodroid army!
The next video planned is a first round of recommendations of good videos from around Youtube. Let’s see how that turns out.
After that, I will tackle sequels and the common problem of sequels not understanding the original. So, something a bit closer to traditional video essays.
1581 Words | Reading Time: About 7:54 minutes
This summer, I tasked myself with updating my book discussing the various dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Jurasic World. It is called The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World. Not because I’m lazy but because that makes it well-findable. Which I just decided is a word now.
Yet, I also found myself in a situation where the first edition was three years old and I had failed to come upwith a follow-up. This book was a real success, yet failed to find another franchise to make a whole book about that had not been written yet. The one exceptions would have been The Biology of Star Trek when Star Trek: Discovery turned out to be unusually biology-centered but I was not that deep into Star Trek lore and Discovery eventually shifted away to become a more traditional sf show.
At the same time, written books started to face a decline asopposed to audio books and video. Audio books where never my cup of tea because I am unable to listen to a whole book without giving my eyes anything to do while my ears where busy. But when my eyes where busy, I lost track of what my ears received. Like I said, not my thing. They did not have to be that long, though.
This is where I saw a chance to make more Fiction Science content. If all I could do was short pieces about specific questions for each franchise, why not make this a strength? If I made videos instead of books, lenth would not be a problem anymore. Videos between five and ten minutes were fine, and this was just what I would be going for.
Thus, Fiction Science, the Youtube channel was born. The design is still a work in progress, though.
Before I did anything I wanted to introduce the idea. So I created this video about the general idea, how it came about, and what to expect.
The First JP/JW Batch
There was originally a introduction video to the franchise I recorded and uploaded. But Youtube only allows for two channels to be verified with the same phone number within twelve months and I had already done so. Thus, the video failed to publish for being to long (non-verified channels are limited to 15 minutes, the intro had about 20). Good thing, too, though. The original plan to release critiques on all species present in the park one at a time, like I did with my book The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, never came to be.
It proved far better suited to the project to base each episode around a central question or story. I did record audio for Critter Critique videos on Carnotaurus, Ceratosaurus, and Stegosaurus (as well as parts of a two-parter on Velociraptor) before I realized I wanted to go a different route about this.
The intro still explains how Jurassic World justified its approach to displaying outdated dinosaurs, why that matters little and how the videos really don’t try to spoil anybody’s fun and just use the movies as an aid for education.
It has been uploaded and is ready to go, I am just not sure I want to publish it anymore when the channel has changed so much from what I originally thought it would be like. Its announcement of me going through all the dinosaurs by the time Jurassic World came out in the US obviously never came to be true.
For the first actual video I decided to choose a topic that comes up a lot about Jurassic Park, usually as a plothole or scientific error when it really isn’t either of those things. The first movie and novel make mention of extinct plants in the park. Many question where these came from when the creatures are made from dinosaur blood.
But, when you consider what amber actually is and you learn a little bit more about mosquitoes, an abundance of prehistoric plants in the park makes a lot of sense. In fact, there should be more than just one species of these on the island.
This is also when I decided to add a banner at the bottom for consistent branding. It’s probably the largest watermark of any channel but it works pretty well for branding. It’s consistent with the books that way, the second edition featuring this shade of blue on its serial banner, as well. In all honesty,it also helps cove rup watermarks from channels that had no business putting their own watemarks in other people’s video content (like trailers) anyway. I am thinking of playing around with the blue band a bit when the occasion arises.
One thing I don’t like about these first few videos is my voice. While I do like my voice fine, I had a hard time not making it sound flat. I have been doing videos while in front of a camera or while reading from a script for some time and that works fine. For Fiction Science I talk without a script. That requires talking and thinking at the same time and it becomes harder to also add some voice modulation to sound more engaging.
These first few videos served as learning experiences for that. I have aleady improved in that regard and expect to continue doing so. This is fine imho. To improve, I need to fail a lot. As long as I realize my shortcomings, I can overcome them. This is also why I waited until now to write this article.
To start with the main attractions of Jurassic World, the dinosaurs, I did some research. Yes, I checked what dinosaur from the series is the most viable to make a video about by looking at search volume and numbe rof videos available.
Stygimoloch came out on top by a wide margin and luckily this is one dinosaur that is interesting to talk about. Because it should not be in the movie. Not only was it completely overhyped in marketing for something playing such a minor role in it, it also likely never existed as a separate dinosaur. And that is not by just somebody’s opinion, but by that of the very paleontologist who is responsible for the scientific viability of the franchise’s creatures.
Funny enough, nobody has yet made a video about that. So I did.
And I gave it a really clickbait-y title.
Next, I decided to delve further into the topic of the confusing back-and-forth in dinosaur naming with new names popping up and old ones disappearing all the time. I picked the sauropods for that topic because Apatosaurus is one of the most famous cases of this with Brachiosaurus also affected. This was a perfect jumping-off point. To add to that, there is little else to talk about especially in regards to Apatosaurus. I will get back to Brachiosaurus later on, though.
This is also the first time I created a custom thumbnail and started a video with that. So instead of a video still, there is now soem more text in addition to the actual title to better communicate the video’s content. This enabled me to give the videos a more grounded title with the semi-clickbait in the picture instead.
Ihave no idea why the preview cuts off Brachiosaurus’ head, however. Its fine in the video.
There are more videos on Jurassic Park and Jurassic World coming down the line, but I want to avoid the impression this is a Jurassic Park channel. There are plenty of those and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I want this channel to be limited to.
On to New Shores
Last week’s major movie launch was The Meg. I did not think there is much to talk about in The Meg when it comes to biology. But I saw a trailer for Deep Blue Sea 2 the other week. That reminded me of the first movie, which is really good and remembered fondly on Youtube. So I switched to that movie instead and tooka look at the sharks.
This marks the first actual Critter Critique. However, their was little to talk about the sharks themselves, yet much more to talk about the background and plot. So I did this.
I feel this video was a significant step forward for me. My vice modulation is much better now, not remotely as flat as before. I did have the problem of running out of things to say somewhat, but I think it’s alright and at least now it sounds much better.
The plan from now on is to have two new videos each week, preferably one each Monday and Thursday. The next ones will be another video on Deep Blue Sea, followed by Star Wars (for which I spent €26 in Lego, so it better be worth it), and a first round of video recommendations. After that, the new Predator starts and I will do a video on that. I have a couple of videos planned for some movie and season launches in the future. Star Trek is eventually going to be there, as well.
This blog has been suffering from a lack of content for quite some time now. With Fiction Science, this shall change. As new content will nowcome up more frequently, I will do a weekly post on new content. I am also reviving the channel that featured short and flash fiction pieces, delivering one video each Friday starting this week.
479 Words | Reading Time: About 2:23 minutes
I swear I was not trying to make this a themed week, but with both Medusa and Donald Trump appearing in publications I submitted their stories to, and bot stories playing on those characters’ narcissist tendencies, it became a simple matter of fact this week is themed now.
On to the publications in question, then!
Donald Trump in Steaks, Walls and Dossiers
This anthology had been a while in the making. Originally announced for January’s inauguration day of the new president, a couple of things held it back for some time, only for it to appear this week.
What we have here is a cleverly disguised Trump anthology, as editor George Donnelly put it so aptly.
Like I implied aleady, my take on the anthology’s call for Trump parodies was playing up his narcissism. I think even most of his supporters will agree, this particula flavour of pride is his most evident vice.
Narcissism is such a fun plaything for a writer when painting a characters’ goals and ambitions. So I put president Trump at the end of his first term (yeah, I don’t worry about dating stories, there’s nothing bad about dates imho) and let him both inspect the results of his most important long-term project (that is not a wall) and turn his attention to the logical next step.
My entry In Thine Image is a fun piece of flash fiction filled with memes and ridiculousness because sometimes that is exactly what we all need.
I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I had writing it.
Writing this, I realize he title of the post and section make this one somewhat spoilery. But ignore that. You now know Medusa (or rather the gorgons as a group) is part of the story.
101 Fiction is a website publishing collections of 100-word stories with a 1-word title four times a year. I sent one answering the latest call for submissions and managed to get in on the fun. The topic this time was “Monsters and Heroes”.
My short Chiselled (the site uses British spelling) zeroes in on the monster part of that and fleshes out the world of the gorgons by adding an original character into Greek mythology. Aeliseia fits snuggly into this context. I’ll probably do more with here at some point in the future. I see great potential for a classical tragedy with her.
Of course narcissism is one of the defining features of the gorgons and the main topic of their story. Aeliseia is a character that lives off of this trait instead of one that falls victim to it like the gorgon sisters do.
1038 Words | Reading Time: About 5:11 minutes
So, I’ve been inactive on this blog for a while. I won’t bore you with a long story about a cycling accident, a month of uselessness in the arms, and so on.
What I will bore you with talk about is what I have been busy with in the meantime.
That Month I was a Library
Yes, this is a library. Of sorts.
During September, I did a large author promo I think others can do as well.
Author collaborations are all the rage now and most of them focus on joint mailing list promotion, cross-referencing, guest blogging, or multi-author box sets. And these are fine, but there is a lot of repetition here. And what I try to do on this blog is I try to avoid repeating what everybody else already talked about.
So, for one month, I became a librarian.
My hometown had an event during this time, where empty storefronts were being rented to artists for one month for cheap (€ 100-150). Had this not happened, I would have done this at a fitting convention or a similar event, but having a store for a whole month was an incredible opportunity.
So what I did then was I started looking for authors from my hometown and asked them about a collaboration. We would create a library with books from all authors who signed up for it available to read in this little library. It would not have shelves, but chairs and tables with books lying around, encouraging people to pick them up, sit down and read them. Additionally, there was a gallery of books and authors participating on the wall. We did reading events and at least one of us was always present during opening hours (usually me, because I was the guy with the keys). One Sunday, we organized a reading event (bookended by two national bestselling authors participating) where we read samples of our works to the audience through the afternoon and we had to get out all the chairs we luckily had in the closet.
We created a common brand for the participants and made clear every one of us was from our town. Most people know one or two authors from their hometown (unless they’re from New York or something like this). We were a group of twenty. Bestsellers, newbies, traditionally published, self-published, romance, sci-fi, steampunk, crime fiction, literary fiction, there was something and someone for everybody’s tastes.
We had constant local news coverage in papers, tv, and radio worth its weight in gold. As importantly, if not more so, we got to know each other a lot during that time. And while the project disbanded after one month, as had always been the plan, the seed of a community was planted with that event. All this left little time during September, but it was great.
Now, if you do something like this, be prepared for rainy days. Nobody goes to a shop unless they have to on those. I got by writing stuff, resulting in two pieces sold. So even the bad days yielded results. To be precise, the sonnet Fling of Petals has in the meantime been published on Eye to the Telescope, and the short story Fetch Monkey has been sold to Mad Scientist Journal and is set to appear in its 2018 autumn edition.
On to the Tubes!
You might have also heard of the federal elections in Germany. While I did not run in it, I was very busy with that. Being the local head of a party does that.
But all that is past now, as well. For a few weeks, I tried to get back into writing on the English blog. Now I can with the result of my newest project. It’s a text some of you might have already seen. Delayed Vengeance was already published in both the Indies Unlimited 2015 Flash Fiction Anthology and my own collection How to Sing Butterflies. But now, you can listen to it on Youtube, as well. And again, I did some stuff differently from everybody else.
Basically, I was disappointed how audiobooks are usually presented on Youtube. There is either no picture at all or a static one. I can’t really listen to them much because my eyes get bored by the static visual and as they start to look for a distraction, they tend to tow my mind along with them. Audiobooks are really not my cup of tea as a reader/listener.
So I created a version of audiobook video that has the text currently read on screen. After a showed the concept to a few friends, I modified it so the previous paragraph would stay on screen until the end of the next. Paragraphs would appear top to bottom, and the from the top again, giving reading along a flow much like reading a book.
And no, this ia no movie magic. Here’s all the equipment I used: An age-old laptop running VSDC Editor (a free video editing tool available here) and Audacity (a free audio editor available here), and a microphone.
And some dust, that is essential
I just recorded the audio, created a background image and a title image using the design of my blog as a template, and added text with a fade-in and fade-out effect in the video editor.
Now, this does take time, but it is by no means complicated. I am truly baffled nobody has done this before, it’s really easy and it is such a logical extension to publishing audiobooks on Youtube. I aim to add two every Friday from now on, one each in English and German. Though I do plan a little change of pace for the month of December involving unicorns and a couple of advent calendars. More on that come Saturday.
For now, enjoy the first flash fiction audiostory of many to come.
As you can see, I have been busy. I intend to keep it that way for some time.
775 Words | Reading Time: About 3:52 minutes
How about a new flash piece? It’s an answer to a challenge by Chuck Wendig again, this week asking for a story about an invasive species. I might have misinterpreted that adjective slightly. Or hit his hidden meaning on the head. I don’t seem to be the only one going this route, at least.
Warning, though: Not for the squeamish.
“Tell me, Mister Sammer, do you happen to sleep on your side?”
“I do, but I don’t think my arm has just become numb from me sleeping on it. This has been going on for far too long now to be that.”
Doctor Gern mustered the inner side of Georg’s arm once more. Passing his forearm, his eyes fixated on something they seemed to have found in his armpit.
“That’s not what I mean by that. I can see a very peculiar wound down here. Do you happen to lie on the left side sleeping?”
“Almost circular and looking rather new. You say, your arm feels extremely light and your hands don’t respond like they should. I have to assume there is a problem with your muscles’ attachment to the bone, and I think I know the reason why. Did any liquid leak from your armpit, did you spot any discolorations in your mattress the last few days?”
“Not as far as I remember. Is that something more common?”
“It wasn’t before, but this month your are the fifth showing symptoms like that. I expect the X-ray any minute now, it should tell the rest of the story.”
As if she heard the doctor’s call for it, the assistant entered the room, x-ray under her arm. She put it on the illuminated wall for displayed x-rays and left without a word. The outline and bones of an arm showed. One of the forearm’s bones seemed very pale in comparison to the glowing white the light gave the other bones in the picture.
“Just as I thought,” Doctor Gern said, moved in to take a closer look of the image again, return with eyes calming Georg with the confidence reflected in them, gripped Georg Sammer’s arm with both hands, and smashed it on the table. CRACK it went as his ulna easily burst into pieces. And yet, the pain was no worse than that of a hand slapping his skin.
“Are you nuts?! You’re supposed to fix my arm, not shatter it!”
“That’s just what I did. Didn’t you realize this barely hurt when a bone shattering should cause excruciating pain?”
“I don’t have my arm broken all that often,” he replied perplexed.
“Look at the x-ray, don’ you see something peculiar there?”
“One fo the bones looks really pale.”
“I don’t see anything special.”
“You don’t? So you think it’s normal there are six white beams coming out of the ulna’s side and two more going into your hand?”
“You’re the doctor, you tell me!”
“No, it’s not normal at all. Most bones in the human body don’t have legs and antennae sticking out.”
“They don’t have what?”
“Legs and antennae. You see, you have caught a parasitic phasmid. Had caught, it should be dead now. We remove the remains of the dead phasmid in a minute.”
“I caught what?”
“A parasitic phasmid. A stick insect making a home in the victim’s limbs by replacing certain bones with themselves, living off their blood. All painless thanks to chemicals they give off, but the effects still bewilder the patients, as you just experienced. Did you know stick insects can give birth to live young without involving a male? They then crawl out of the entry wound and nestle into the mattress until another person sleeps there or they can enter an uninfected limb on the original host. Nasty little bug climate change has begun to draw out of the tropics.”
And that is the story how Ludwig Sammer convinced his son to take over the family business as an exterminator after all. All thanks to the help of a friend who was also the family doctor with a strange enthusiasm in parasitology and a few genetic engineers he knew from college. And the story how they introduced a new terror to the world, keeping people awake at night. Oh well, some eggs ought to be cracked. It was all for the good of the family, after all.
1596 Words | Reading Time: About 7:58 minutes
Doing a series is very common advice given to authors who ant to sell more. So, many authors do a trilogy, maybe even a series of four or five. But when we look at the world of traditional media, we often see series that are far longer. How do these series manage not to run out of steam?
There are many perils to having a long series. The conflict the series is based on might get resolved, the conflict might become pointless through character and world development, or reader preferences change away from the initial focus of a series. So how do some of the longest-running series attract reader interest for decades?
Let’s look at some of them.
It may be a series virtually unknown to most English-speaking audiences, but a feature like this has to start with Perry Rhodan. Running for 56 years, reaching over 4,000 books (including spin-offs), not counting comic books, short stories, and the like, this is the most successful science fiction series in the world sales-wise. In fact, it is the most successful book series ever written at about 2 billion copies combined.
This brings with it serious challenges. The first issue has titular character Major Perry Rhodan become the first person to set foot on the moon in 1971, meeting some stranded aliens in the process. Basically, everything is completely outdated. The publisher can’t expect anybody to start the series at book 1 — it’s hard to come by, completely outdated in almost every way from the writing to the science, and the sheer number of books in the series is intimidating.
To keep the series accessible to new readers, the series is separated into series much like seasons. A series may be anywhere from 25 to 100 issues long (half a year up to two years). Everything outside this specific piece of the overall series is largely irrelevant to the current story and becomes part of the worldbuilding. E.g. while it is vital information to know Terrania is the capital of Earth and its various space empires, you don’t need the story of its foundation and how it ended up being located in Mongolia due to the Cold War.
In addition to this, every now and then, the series will skip some time between seasons to further separate their interdependence. Or some centuries (the main characters do not age). Whatever option works best for the changes to the setting introduced for the next story arc. Star Trek works in a similar way. Each series of the franchise focuses on the crew of one ship (or space station in the case of Deep Space Nine). It was only after several series failing to click with viewers the franchise entered a reboot. And a weird one at that. We’ll get to that in the section on comic books.
Let’s switch to the second-longest running science fiction series of all time. Doctor Who has ben running for 54 years. Even when it got canceled in 1989 and restarted in 2005, books and audio drama continued the title.
With its restart finally managing to capture American audiences, the franchise has become one of the largets in the world.
As a tv series, it has the problem of actors aging and eventually ending their careers, be it from death or just retirement (followed by death, eventually). So they invented regeneration, a process by which characters that have the rank of a timelord (a noble title among the Gallifreyan species, later changed to the name of the species itself) gain a new life upon death (with or without previous retirement plans). This creates an in-universe explanation why the actor suddenly changes.
But this is also a viable refreshing method for authors: Along with the face, the character’s personality undergoes some major changes and in the end, a completely different person might go out, traveling through all of space and time.
The similarly long-lived movie series James Bond tip-toes around a non-science-fiction variation on this, with Ian Fleming stating the name is not 007′s real name, but an alias that comes with the job. Some of the movies contradict this — e.g. Daniel Craig’s character in Casino Royal is clearly named Bond even before he becomes 007. Still, it’s an example of a more down-to-earth version of the same idea.
Anthology series are nothing new, with both Tales from the Crypt and Twilight Zone being major brands of stories that are mostly disconnected from each other, giving them a lot of creative freedom. But German tv crime fiction series Tatort (translates to crime scene) is a beast very much its own.
What Tatort does is being composed of several series running intertwined. Imagine there was only one series of CSI, but every week it would change its cast and setting to return a few weeks later. What this does is, it gives the writers more time to craft a new story for the characters of one setting while giving fans of the genre something else to see and keep their connection to the brand. Different teams and in fact different publishers work on each series within the series to market it under one joint brand.
Even when some of the sub-series are bad (which happens all the time), the overall brand persists. It’s been running for 47 years now, reaching 1,000 feature-length episodes.
80 years of continuous publication is quite the feat, probably a record in fiction. It is held by Detective Comics, home to Batman. Superman’s Action Comics follows along, running for 77 years now.
For a long time, comic books did not care much for being series. Characters would get introduced and return, and the hero’s powers would be fleshed out, but other than that each issue was a story unto itself. When that changed from the 60′s on, problems arose. Problems that needed fixing.
Because of their disjointed nature, comic books were a mess of conflicting information from different books. Often, this got resolved by splitting the shared world of a publisher’s books into several universes. That did anything but making this easier. Now readers had to keep track what character was in what universe, including things like three different supermen having adventures at the same time at one point. Thus, universe reboots became a regular thing.
What happens in comic books is that every now and then, characters or whole worlds get restarted. DC Comics did this twice with its complete lineup by ending the world and starting anew. Marvel Comics tends to kill off characters to restart them on their own, like when villain Onslaught killed the Fantastic Four and Avengers, for them to return after being reborn in a separate universe.
And this leads us to the reboot spin-off. Where a series continues on its own while a modernized version runs parallel for new readers who don’t want or can’t get into all the stuff that has happened over the decades of publishing. Marvel’s Ultimate series are an example with the most popular books getting spin-offs that completely restarted a character while the same character would go on unaffected in their old book. Naturally, that creates confusion and eventually, all their series would merge again, coming full circle.
I guess the take-away here is how comic books manage to stay afloat even though even after more than 70 years, they still don’t know what they’re doing, and keep repeating their old mistakes.
I promised to get into Star Trek a little more, so: Star Trek managed to simultaneously delete its history and keep the worst parts of it. Basically, Mister Spock traveled to the past and deleted the future he came from in the process so iconic character James T. Kirk could be cast with a new actor to experience new adventures. In theory, this creates an original universe that still offers space for new adventures as well as a new universe to be defined. The same goes for Star Wars when almost everything except the movies was declared a separate entity from the main franchise (Star Wars Legends) after Disney took over the brand. Weirdly, both franchises have not done anything with that so far. Maybe they saw the struggles comic books go through with this. And, on the bad end of this, both series retained their most controversial additions for their new versions, Enterprise and Episode I-III, respectively.
63 years and about 30 movies feature everybody’s favorite Lovecraftian abomination, Gojira, king of the monsters and especially the kaiju. Godzilla‘s most noteworthy strategy for staying current is probably its inherent iconicity, but its regular reboots help. The former makes it its own genre surviving even the most terrible of movies by sheer reputation, the latter ensures those most terrible of movies can just be ignored.
The series had its misdirections, but everybody knows by now that just means a reboot is coming to try and return the giant dinosaur that is definitely not a mutated iguana to its former glory.
Thing is, I don’t think authors will be able to deliberately recreate this strategy.
Soap Operas are fascinating. They do persist and nobody knows, why. I’m a little too removed from that genre to pick one, but I think their solution to the problem of continuity is the same across the board: Have none!
And because I feel like being lazy after about 1,400 words in a single blog post (instead of a book), I just let Austin McConnell take this one, including a very impressive description of how long some of these series have been running:
999 Words | Reading Time: About 4:59 minutes
Okay, let’s finish this then. So far, I have covered the two large narration-driven types of games: Visual Novels and their ambitious younger brother, the mighty role-playing game.
Of course, these are only two types of games in a universe of such. Howeve,r the other genres tend to be gameplay-driven. This means, they are games first and are defined by the way players interact with their world. That is perfectly fine, but there is little to discuss here for writers: The plot tends to either be integral to the play (which is very hard to do for anybody new to this), or to be told in short film sequences (so-called cutscenes) serving as a pause in between sessions of shooting stuff.
There are two more narrative-driven types to mention. I skipped over the interactive fiction category for being outdated, but Gamasutra has created a nice list of recommended titles I can recommend. Then there’s the point-and-click adventure which I am simply not familiar enough with.
What I will do now is a short overview over the most important remaining gametypes.
Yep, this is the one featuring everybody
Let’s Do This!
First Person Shooter (FPS)
Arguably the most successful type on the market at the moment, the first person shooter has you see the world from a character’s eyes and your main goal is to shoot your enemies and progress in the game. Story is usually told through videos pausing the game, though characters talking about stuff during the game may also appear. Extremely sophisticated genre with high expectations to be tackled by experienced developers.
Notable examples: Doom, Halo, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, countless others
Third Person Shooter
Basically the same as the First Person Shooter, but you see the main character from the outside, a virtual camera following him around.
Notable example: Gears of War
A weirdly ill-defined type. In general, games that focus on puzzle-solving get lumped into this category. Often, the story is told through the puzzles or in the form of cutscenes typically following after the player successfuly solved a puzzle. Characters talking to each other or the main character during play commonly add to this.
Notable examples: Tomb Raider series, Uncharted series, The Last of Us. Currently the most popular type with emphasis on narrative, but hard and expensive to create.
Any game where the player can explore a big world on his or her own doing anything they want. Storytelling is mostly done during task and mission assignments. The story will usually make up a series of missions the player can choose to do or not to do. This type will frequently mix with others.
Notable examples: GTA IV, Far Cry series
Games where the main challenge is to navigate the environment, often through jumps to platforms (hence the name) strewn about. Enemies tend to be an anonymous force to be taken out by jumping on their heads. Think the Super Mario series. Tends to feature very little story that is provided by text before and after traversing each area.
Shoot em Up or Shmup or STGs
Bullets, bullets everywhere! You shoot colorful bullets to shoot down your enemies. Your enemies shoot hundreds of colorful bullets to avoid. You see your character either from above or form the side, constantly flying or driving upward or to the right on your screen, avoiding or shooting down enemies. Little to no story with some players even complaining about story in their shooters. Rather easy to create, but their players like to be challenged and are a tough crowd to please.
Players control not one character, but an army. They see a map of the surrounding area and order units to move around on it to uncover more of the map, encounter enemies and engage them while more units are built in your base to defeat the opposing army. Again, light on story with a few exceptions providing it in between missions. Sid Meyer’s Alpha Centauri is a notable strategy game with a deep storyline.
A game with a horror vibe in atmosphere. The character is often weaker than his or her enemies or running low on ammunition for their guns. Story is delivered by characters talking to each other and through world-building.
Notable examples: Silent Hill 2, Resident Evil.
Here’s one genre authors might want to consider. The name was supposed to be an insult, but fans embraced it, esepcially as this game has not yet gained an official name. Exploration Games gets thrown around a lot, though. These are games that find you wandering a world, often completely alone.
The player does not get told a story, but the story of the world they’re exploring gets discovered through the marks it left on the world. Notes, seemingly out of place objects, messages through the radio or phone, and so on. Despite their bad reputation, those games are a challenge, but an interesting one. Creators have to make sure their story shines through in their worldbuilding. Actually an interesting type to practice on the old “Show don’t tell” rule. Often in these games, you don’t get the opportunity to tell much. All you can ever do is show things. There are no characters present, except in what they left behind when they existed.
Notable exmaples: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Dear Esther
This was a rough overview over the most important videogame types that tend to provide notable stories at least every now and then. This list is anything but complete. Sme types like racing or sports games require little to no explanation on what they are and are also almost completely devoid of plot. Others are too specific or exotic to include, with many mobile games becoming their own thing followed by countless copies (e.g. clicker games).
Maybe I will expand this later down the roaad. But next week, I’ll tackle soemthing different again.
836 Words | Reading Time: About 4:10 minutes
Last time I introduced you to the idea of writing for videogames and started talking about the options using Visual Novels. This time, aside from learnign that I sometimes miss a week because life, I will take a dip into the big one: RPGs. Not the rocket launcher brand, role-playing videogames. Lets go!
Evoland showcasing the graphical evolution of RPGs through the decades Image: ShiroGames
If you boil it down, the RPG is remarkably simple in concept. Think back to the visual novel with its characters talking to each other the whole game through, interactions happening almost exclusively in dialogue options.
The RPG retains those dialogue options, often down to the way dialogue is presented and adds a few layers to that. At its most basic, it adds a map for the characters to walk around in. Here the player can find stuff and other characters to interact with, adding a layer of space to the social interaction. Most RPGs will also add combat of some form to keep players occupied between story scenes, or to directly enhance the story if it is about combat.
There are many ways an RPG can appear. 2D RPGs show a flat map on which characters move around, adorned with buildings, trees, and other features one may or may not be able to interact with. 3D RPGs are essentially worlds to move around in seeing either through the player character’s eyes or following them like an invisible camera. They can be story-driven or gameplay-driven (i.e. combat-driven), though I will concentrate on the story-driven ones.
Writing an RPG can be a daunting task. All characters need dialogue throughout the game, even if it is just somebody saying they don’ want to talk. The map needs to be built, adding environmental design on top of character and background design. Luckily, many parts of the map like trees and different types of ground tend to be readily available to fill the landscape. Still, there needs to be a world to move around in.
In return, players will reward game authors by acknowledging it as a game, at least. Even if they call it a terrible game, they still call it a game. This can’t be said of visual novels. So that’s a plus.
Expectations are for an epic tale filling upward of 70 hours, often hundreds of hours. But short tales can be done and garner positive opinions from players and critics if they are good. Actual Sunlight took me less than 90 minutes and it is considered one of the most profound RPGs currently available. Similarly, the heavily praised To the Moon takes about 4 hours to finish.
So really, the RPG form is so diverse, anything is possible as long as players know exactly what they get into.
Genre-wise, the form skewers toward fantasy, with the occasional science fiction tale in the mix. Everything else does exist but is exceedingly rare to the point I have never seen a romance RPG.
For those wanting to try and make a 2D RPG without programming experience, there is basically one option only: RPG Maker. This is a commercial software available in different editions for a range of prices from about US$20 to just under US$100. The only competitor worth mentioning is the RPG Creator.
I can’t really talk about software for making 3D games because I have almost no experience with those, even though I do own a license for Game Guru and have played around with it a little. Game Guru is nice enough to get some idea how 3D games work, but I can’t recommend it for any actual products one would want to sell.
Get to Know the Genre
The RPG genre is one of the most durable and diverse ones out there. Listing the important or good ones alone would take up entire books, so instead this list will focus on games that showcase RPG storytelling potential. I will also focus on games that can be made be newbie developers willing to learn the basics.
This means the usual favorites are out for various reasons. For example, Chrono Trigger is an extremely well-told game, but to large in scope. Pokémon is rather simple, if large, but not that noteworthy in its storytelling. Skyrim is something that takes the equivalent of a Hollywood studio to even approach. And so on.
Mind you, 3D RPGs are perfectly doable with software usually used for things like first-person shooters, I just have not managed to find any remarkable ones that stay small enough to be handled by a newbie. For whatever reason. And I refuse to scare people away with the daunting titles available. I am, however, planning to close just that gap at some point and would like to encourage you to try so, too. I believe a small-scale 3D RPG is sorely missing. They have proven very effective for 2D titles, as we’ll see with stuff like To the Moon. is the title of the header image, but while it does do a nice showcase of the genre’s evolution in terms of graphic, it is unremarkable in its storytelling aspects.
The Princess’ Heart
Let’s start with something typical.
A fantasy tale about a princess fighting her inner demons. And quite a few outer ones. Fantasy is the most common genre for RPGs from tradition. True to the form’s Japanese origins, the story heavily features emotion and a personal journey behind its superficial plot and can get very close to the visual novel. There are hundreds like this one out there, it features for being a good example of your typical 2D RPG, aside from the framing device which is somewhat unique to it.
Available on PC (Steam) for about US$ 5.
Actual Sunlight is here as an example of a simple game going for a smaller, more emotional and intimate scope. It’s about depression and compresses its protagonist’s adult life into a few pivotal moments to cover as much of its history as possible.
The writing here is not perfect. At various points, I got the impression the writers are trying to hard to make the protagonist’s depression justified. Still, it’s an attempt worth mentioning for tackling such an issue.
Available for about US$ 5 to 6 for PC (via Steam and Itch.io) and Playstation Vita.
Super Columbine Massacre RPG!
Now here’s a controversial one. Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (the exclamation mark is part of the title) is, for the most part, a satire on the media’s coverage of the 1999 school massacre at Columbine High in Littleton, CO.
The incident has by now passed into history far enough to talk about it, but back in 206 it was an extremely controversial title. This game drips with sarcasm, and in the context of an actual school shooting, no less.
Crudely done on an aesthetic and gameplay level, it nevertheless is a milestone title in the evolution of games into an artform.
Available for free for Windows on its dedicated website.
To the Moon
One of the most praised 2D RPGs of the last few years, To the Moon tries for an emotional story, and it succeeds.
In the near future, it has become possible to alter memories. The player takes the role of two doctors using that technology on a dying man to give him some happiness. His memories are to be altered so he believes he achieved his life-long dream of traveling to the moon. As the doctors travel backward through his memories, they learn the reasons for this dream. To the Moon is an impressive game with commentary on topics such as loss, psychological illness, and the nature of lies. This is actual literature coming in the form of a game.
Available for PC and Mac for about US$ 8.
Try it! There is a very active and supportive community surrounding RPGMaker. Creating an RPG is certainly a project in the same scale as creating a novel, but it is doable in just about the same vein. Nevertheless, doing this comes with a completely new skillset, so don’t expect your first project to be a masterpiece.
Next time, we’ll tackle the remaining forms of games in a quick overview. Realistically, an author with little to no experience in making games will be able to use visual novels and RPGs well to tell a story with some training and relatively cheap software taking away the need to learn too much actual programming. The others are harder to pull off, either requiring actual programming knowledge or just being less fit for storytelling.
1237 Words | Reading Time: About 6:11 minutes
Good news everyone, I will have two blog posts this week! Because I will not skip on my promise to continue the series on game writing on Wednesday, yet Chuck Wendig has a challenge out to which I actually want to post a response. So you get both. Lucky you. (edit: I failed you, I’m sorry)
Short note: I consider this sort of a companion piece to last year’s Master of Man, hence the similar title.
Predator of Flame
Laura awoke to heat and light and red and yellow eating up the walls around her. To thick dark smoke spreading in the place of clean air. The house was on fire!
Recalling her training from school, she let herself fall out of the bed instead of standing up, to crawl underneath the poisonous smoke toward the door of the bedroom. The handle was warm, but not hot, so she opened the door and got out. The flames were everywhere already. Burning carpets blocked the way to the stairs, so she crawled the other way.
There was a window just above a garage the other way. Low enough to get out and let herself fall down on the garage’s roof safely.
She crawled ahead, passing a room with no fire but filled with a column of smoke that seemed to come in through a hole in the floor. Around a corner and – parts of the roof had already collapsed, blocking her way in this direction, too.
What she needed now was time to think. The room from before. There was smoke, but she could keep her head down. At least there was no fire yet, this could give her precious time. So she went there, careful not to close the door behind her.
Think. Somebody must’ve seen the fire yet. The firefighters had to be on their way. Was waiting for them an option? No, too risky. Maybe if she could find another way to the first floor. Where did that smoke come from, anyway? A hole in the floor was all she needed to get down and hopefully out.
That smoke column. What was that? It just stood there in the middle of the room. But it did not seem to dissipate or fill the room, quite the opposite. It looked like smoke from around the room flowed toward the column to be absorbed.
There was something in the smoke. Not really a form, more like a recurring pattern in the vague shape of a human fading in and out of the dark layers of thick smoke. A face there, an arm here, flickering in and out of existence as if the fire wanted to mock her.
More a form of modulated wind then a voice, words reached her ears: “Hello there.”
“Who’s there? Help! I’m here!”
“So am I.”
Needles filled her chest, but she managed to cough out the pain in her lungs.
The smoke formed a more pronounced form now. A featureless human shape emerged, fading from solidified ash into thin air at its edges.
“What the hell are you?”
Snickering from nowhere. “I am me. One of my meals called me the Predator of Flame. One of the few who could still talk for a while, like you. A wannabe poet, I think. So few of you manage to stay conversational as I prepare to nourish. But I like those that do. It is a special quality of some to become even calmer than usual when meeting things like me.”
“Nourish? D’you wanna eat me?”
“In a way.”
“And you think I’ll be okay with that?”
The smoke snickered again. “Even if you would ask a pig before eating bacon, would you accept its answer? It is not like you could fight me.”
“Then why are you talking to me? Why bother? Entertainment?”
“Yes, entertainment while I wait for you to burn. But I would not know the concept had I not learned from your lot. I saw your struggles and through instinctual emulation I found consciousness. Then language. The sense of enjoying my life. Some of your most beautiful traits. I am quite fond of arrogance, for example. What a terrific notion.”
“What about guilt?”
“What about it? I do not do anything. I do not kill you I consume the exhaust of fire’s kills. This is how I became, this is how I persist, this is my nature. I am smoke. This is the most solid I’ll ever be. I could not kill if I wanted to.”
“You’re clearing your conscience, then?”
“I chose not to have one. No, I entertain myself. After all, you cannot change your fate anymore. Already, I taste your burning flesh and hair nourish me.”
“I’m not even on fire yet.”
“Do not lie, I can taste it. You started burning, it cannot be anybody else. There is nobody here. You are alone. You burn.”
At the edge of her sight, something dark snuck through the fire. Were there two of these smoke creatures? Another one to mock her? The dark figure appeared again, barking at her. The dog wore a fire department jacket, but it had caught some fire on its tail. Acting like that was not an issue, the dog barked again, to then start trying to pull Laura out of the room. She jumped up, and her lifesaver immediately starting walking out, showing her a clear path through the debris and the flames. It was way easier than before. Laura had not thought the carpets would burn up as fast as they did, and now the path to the stairs down was clear.
In the kitchen, she managed to grab hold of the dog and extinguished the flames gnawing at its tail by squeezing it in between her arms and belly. Pain advised her not to ever put out a fire this way again, reason likewise advised her not to do this right then. But depriving the smoke creature of some food seemed worth it.
She did not see it again until well after she had finally reached the back door of the house and fled into the garden. If she saw it after that, she was not sure. There was that particularly dark huff of smoke bursting out from a window and drifting away just before the firefighters closing in from the front of the house got the flames under control. Off to taunt its next meal.
I’ve had this idea of a creature living off the ashes in the smoke from great fires for some time, yet never employed it so far. I have the plot for a complete fantasy novel revolving around them ready, but other stuff takes top priority before I come to that.
In the meantime, I took that concept and ran with it for this short. The being is now smoke itself instead of being a normal solid creature filter feeding from smoke much like large whales filter feed from the oceans. Feeding off the victims of fire makes it the malevolent counterpiece to the more neutral or even benevolent (if manipulative) fire elemantal encountered in Master of Man.
The Master of Man is a symbiont. The Predator of Flame is a parasite or, well, a predator. I like this creature and the more ethereal quality it grew to assume for this short.
727 Words | Reading Time: About 3:38 minutes
Every now and then, a writer sets out to create a book in the style of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, which, by the way, I think is a trademark. And also pretty much dead for one extremely simple reason: Videogames now exist and they do the whole interactivity thing far better. So, let’s talk videogames (or video games, whichever you prefer), and make it a topic less intimidating in the process. Now, I’m a player and an author, not a developer (yet). So I am drawing from my experience as a gamer instead, but I do think this offers a fresh perspective on the media itself.
So far, Watanabe-san failed to deliver, though. But it’s a good example image – Source: Wikimedia
Videogames are the most profitable and largest of all media industries today. They have come a long way during the last few decades, growing from simple tests of skill and reflex into a giant pool of diverse types of games. Some are purely puzzles, some have you point and shoot at enemy after enemy, and some tell interactive stories. Yet others do all that at once, but this series will focus on the types of games marked by being centered around their stories. This has the advantage of these games representing some of the easiest to create, with special software available to make it even easier.
A short heads-up: In gaming, different types of games are called genres. However, because genres mark content differences in literature and to avoid confusion, I will use the term types here, instead. Gaming is severely lacking in terminology for content categories, although the word theme seems to get common.
Games and Writing
Before computers became powerful enough to do more than that by the 70′s and 80′s, games fell into two categories: Simple games of moving pixels around according to a set of rules, and text-based games reacting to typed player commands.
Lucky for us, text commands got replaced by choosing from options later on, making the creation of those games much easier when writers did not have to anticipate every possible input from any unknown player’s vocabulary.
As time went on, computers and gaming systems became more powerful, and developers became more experienced, resulting in more and more games getting additional story elements on the one side or additional graphical elements on the other.
The so-called Adventure game went through many forms as time went on. Text-adventures were mostly a digital version of Choose Your Own Adventure books and are mostly gone now. Point-and-Click Adventures are a niche one might want to tackle, but it does require some experience with these games and familiarity with their numerous conventions. 3D Adventures I will lump in with RPGs next week, leaving this week’s space for the game type with the most obvious connection to literature, the visual novel.
What this post will not get into are the more intimidating and complicated types of games that require very specific techniques and are very different from book writing. The third part will go into these a little, but overall it’s a completely separate kind of writing were text, image, and player actions all have to be accounted for. Doing this requires experience.
The Visual Novel
The visual novel is pretty much what you would imagine when you hear of a video game genre based on Choose Your Own Adventure. There are events, you are presented with options to react to them, and according to the option you picked, the story may play out differently.
The story may not change at all (Shan Gui), change but head toward the same ending anyway (Emily is Away, Girl Crush), or change completely depending on your choices (Hatoful Boyfriend). Thus, the volume of writing can greatly differ, ranging from much less (Girl Crush thanks to repetition), as much as (Shan Gui) all the way to far more than a novel (Hatoful Boyfriend needing dialogue for all possible chains of events).
Games of this type look very similar in basic design: There is a static background showing the location, one or two static character images showing the characters currently talking or acting and their current emotional state, and an area showing either descriptive text or dialogue, including your own options whenever you get some. There are exceptions ( below is about as far as you can get away from the default setup), but these are rare. Text can be spoken, but more often than not it’s not.
Content-wise anything goes. The form means visual novels are predominantly about characters interacting with each other in some form of relationship. This lends itself well to romance and indeed, romance of all heat levels is by far the most popular genre for visual novels. The type is somewhat infamous for leaning strongly toward porn and while the gaming equivalent of it, called eroge, is indeed very successful and common among visual novels, having pornographic content is not even remotely required, neither is romance.
There is software for creating visual novels with no programming knowledge whatsoever, easing you into development. From my own experimentation, I can recommend Novelty and Ren’Py. Both require little to no programming but allow programming for people who know how to code to expand the abilities of the software.
Get to Know the Genre
Like with literary genres, writing requires knowledge of what is written. Here are some suggestions where to start. The selection is diverse on purpose to show what’s possible in content and presentation.
In Japan, the visual novel is an extremely popular genre with strong competition. This is usually resolved by audacity, meaning either pornography (which I will not include), weirdness, or both.
How weird? Well, this weird. If you have never heard of Hatoful Boyfriend and the above picture didn’t clue you in: You are a human on a highschool entirely populated by pigeons. This is highschool, so you romance the pigeons. This eventually leads to a tale of the apocalypse, genocide, and revenge. Duh.
It’s on this list for being one of the most famous examples of this type, but also to show the ease of getting art to use in such a game. These are photographs of birds made by the developers in a zoo. As far as execution goes, Hatoful Boyfriend is an absolute textbook example of the type. Weirdness optional.
Available on PC (Steam), Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Android, and iOS for a few dollars.
Boiling down the visual novel to its bare minimum, we get a simple story with no branching like the Chinese visual novel Shan Gui. Noteworthy for its simplicity while still getting good reviews.
Available on Steam for $1.99.
Emily is Away
Are the art assets what intimidates you? Enter Emily is Away, a game told entirely within a simulated messenger software. A few boxes with some text in it. That’s all this story needs.
Noteworthy for the strength of its implications and how it manages to tell a story happening just outside of itself. This one’s a downer, though. Also about the furthest a game can stray from the basic formula in presentation.
Available for free on Steam.
Girl Crush (NSFW!)
Yes, it has a wetness meter. The NSFW is there for a reason
The newest game on this list Girl Crush is clearly in the erotica genre. It’s about a girl named Quinn and her female BFF (the player). Quinn starts taking “kissing lessons” and with time, they get increasingly intense.
It’s interesting for letting you easily see how it works (there are two meters, one for love and one for arousal). Apart from that, there is text with some options to click and answers the game gives for those. From a writing perspective, it’s interesting to see how much it accomplishes with little actual writing and lots of repetition, something completely unacceptable in book writing.
The game is available for free on its own site, either online or as a download
Analogue: A Hate Story
Okay, enough with the romance. Here’s a science fiction tale set on a lost generation ship from the perspective of those who have found the ship a century after its last crew member died and are now starting an investigation into what happened.
Picked as a critically acclaimed example of a different genre, even though some romance is present.
Available on Steam for about $10.