We watched a movie the other day that wasn’t very good. Like I have said here many times, movies, comics, games, or other works of art that aren’t particularly good don’t bother me that much. It’s not the worst crime in the world to create something that isn’t very good. Personally, I happen to enjoy a lot of stuff that sits right on the axis of mediocre and weird. I have actively sought out poorly produced, cheaply made things that match my particular interests. There is an honesty to presenting something and saying “well this is the best we could do with what we had. I hope you like it” . Those are the sorts of things that look they they were probably fun to make.
That said, I still can’t help but analyze narrative works that fall short. Were there one or two scenes or moments that could have made me care about what is going on here. Was there a particular twist that wasn’t adequate sold to the audience before it happens. In short, if a creator wants me to care about what is happening in the story, did they earn it.
Watching a movie or reading a book that doesn’t hit always makes me think about my writing or my own art. Mostly I think, that feeling I’m trying to evoke, or that reaction I’m trying to elicit, did I earn that. Even if the feeling I’m going for is “this is the best I could do”, is it earned.
That is what is going through my head most of the time while I move this story from outline/draft stage to draft/edit stage. Unfortunately I usually end up realizing, no, no it doesn’t earn what I’m going for. The only way to fix that is to type some more, fill in the blanks. Develop the characters and the setting. You know - write.
Pretty soon I will have to take a bunch of this collected work and post it up, you know when it’s not a swiss cheese collection of disconnected scenes. Also I will have to specifically inflict it on other people for feedback so that I can ask them if the setups read as genuine and the payoffs are earned.
I’ve been writing a lot of outline stuff and scattered scenes. This means that I haven’t updated the main story I have been working on for a bit (over here), but it also means that there is a lot still happening on it. Of course, if I posted up the outline that would just give away the whole story, and that doesn’t sound very fun. If I posted up some of the later scenes they might give away the story too, or at the very least not make much sense out of context with any surrounding scenes. Also not very fun.
I’m sure this won’t come as news to any writers of long form narratives, but quite often I’m finding that I need to write a few lines of a later scene to even have any idea how to write an earlier one.
I will have a new revision of a few of the earlier scenes coming soon. Probably later this week. I’ll post an update when that happens so that you can either choose to read it or not depending on how much you are interested in reading something under heavy construction.
This has been a regular writing update.
Best Games - Guwange
Okay. First off, there is absolutely no way that I can talk about a game that is part of a splinter off a sub-genre of a genre without wading deep into the weeds. I’m going to toss out some titles and terms without defining them. If you read this hoping to find out what a shmup or STG is, you are in the wrong place. Also shmup is a stupid word and I won’t have it placed idly in my writing without mocking it. You have been warned.
If we were to draw a timeline of the vertically scrolling shooter game you would have to reach all the way back to Space Invaders. While not technically a scrolling shooter, due to the lack of scrolling, the core of the experience is there in Space Invaders. Moving and shooting while bullets rain down. You would step forward down that timeline to Galaga and Galaxian, still proto-scrolling shooters. Any sense of vertical movement in those games is superficial. Soon you would reach Xevious and 1942, both 100% vertically scrolling shooters. Maybe not the first, but very early versions of the form. You would snake your way through games like Tokio Scramble Formation and Varth, Turbo Force and Tiger Heli. The Sonic Wings series and Raiden series. All fine examples of a developing genre.
There are several branch points where the vertical scrolling shooter split into distinct flavours. The standard vertical shooter, the vertical run and gun shooter, and the bullet hell shooter are some enduring favorites. Some would say that it was Cave Interactive’s DonPachi or follow up DoDonPachi that solidified the branch of bullet hell or bullet curtain shooters, but they created a far more important game a few years later.
Guwange was never as popular as many of the other shooters of it’s time since it didn’t see a wide release outside of Japan. Even so, there are a few things that Guwange did that make a game like Ikaruga possible.
Before Guwange, the gimmick of throwing an unreasonable barrage of bullets at the player was what defined a bullet hell game. Guwange is less about challenging your dexterity and more about changing how you focus. Broadening your perception and forcing yourself into a flow state is the only real way to play Guwange.
The beautiful, muted backdrop of a feudal Japan beset by demonic spirits provides the conceit for the game’s core mechanic. Each of the three player characters can summon a spirit that the player can control to float around the screen attacking enemies. When you tap on the fire button you shoot normally, but when you hold down the fire button the spirit is released and the original character is constrained to slow left and right movement only. The spirit moves very quickly and is immune to bullets. The end result of these two different modes is that the player must pay attention to two different areas of the screen simultaneously. The vulnerable and slow moving main character, and the damage dealing and fast moving spirit. Oh, and one last thing, the spirit can slow enemy bullets to create some breathing room for the main character so you can’t pay attention to only one of them. You will need to play both characters, simultaneously, to succeed.
Written down, that sounds like an impossible task. Playing two characters at once on a screen otherwise filled with enemy bullets. Not only can you do it, you quickly find yourself playing through sections of Guwange intuitively. Never really focusing on any single spot on the screen. This is the sort of revelation that makes a developer believe that something like Ikaruga is not only possible, but playable by actual humans with regular human eyes and brains. Guwange is the turning point from one type of somewhat shallow gameplay, to a whole other world of depth and intriguing mechanics.
Guwange is one of the best games, and if you can find it, you should play it.
When you are on the team bus, you are family. Not in poetic or fanciful ways. Not in slight or saccharine ways. You are family, real and tangible and messily entangled. You are forced into close proximity with people that you don’t always choose, but with whom you share a common mission. You dress in your best, present your best, while sitting with people who have shared in your failures. You converse with the ease that only siblings know. You laugh and shout and try to carve out some quiet moment of solace for yourself amidst the cacophony. When you disembark, all of you, the team, return to your separate lives. Not in the locker room, not on the field, will you ever be this close. This familial. That experience stays with you.
Everyone who has ridden the team bus knows this. We all recognize and feel the loss of family.
I’ve written a new post every week for 282 weeks, well 283 weeks now. Most of them hover just under 1000 words or so. There are a couple of haikus in there. Over the past year I added 6 short stories. Almost all of them were typed into either Libre Office or Google docs. That has been good enough until now. I am currently writing another story that is on the longer side. Google docs isn’t really cutting it.
I suppose it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. When I work on animation or 3D modelling I have a vast array of tools available to help organise and break down the task into manageable chunks. I have windows for animation clips, timing, layers, hierarchy. Game development and programming work is completed with the help of tools that offer visual outlines of the entire project tucked off to the side of the screen. These organization tools aren’t a requirement. There are a lot of people who swear by typing code into a text editor with none of the support tools like autocomplete or project overview. That person isn’t me. I appreciate the help.
When it comes to writing I’ve been mostly working without helper tools. If I wanted to remember something that I wrote earlier, I would go back and read it again. Pretty easy to do when the post is only 1000 words. Seriously though, keeping track of more than four or five characters is like a herculean trial for my brain. My soft squishy brain. I wanted the tools. I needed the tools.
Lucky for me I found a program called yWriter. http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter6.html . It lets you take a writing task and break it down into bite sized pieces. You can see a visual layout of chapters and scenes, characters and locations. All the nuts and bolts of building a story are there. Plain and clear.
Will yWriter make me better at writing. No, of course not. Stored palettes and layer blending modes don’t make me better at painting either, but I would never want to give them up. yWriter makes the mechanics of putting together a larger story easier to grapple with. It’s a toolbox.
I have spent a 283 weeks of writing with fewer tools than I probably could have used. It’s sort of nice to give these new tools a test drive.