Whenever I start a new story, I open two documents. The first one is the story I’m trying to write, and the second is all the bits that I want to keep, but cut from the story for one reason or another. I usually call this document “cut bits” because I am extremely inventive like that.
As I go, I will usually add a few more documents. One to hold research or stuff I copied and pasted from Wikipedia. Maybe a timeline or a document with relevant full names, just so that I don’t forget them. But most of the work happens in those two documents.
Most of the time I wind up with the cut bits weighing in at roughly half the word count of the finished story. I probably deleted some stuff in there that would never be used, or pasted back some stuff after I found a place for it.
The story that I am currently writing is only a bit over 3000 words, but the cut bits document is well over 3500.
Now, I don’t store drafts in cut bits. This isn’t a bin to put all of my previous versions. I use a sort of version control for that. Cut bits is only for stuff that I can’t use right now, but I like the flow of a certain sentence or paragraph, so I keep it around to see if I can use it later. So I haven’t just typed in more than double the words, I have written, and discarded more than double the words in the story.
These are different words. Different paragraphs. Entirely different ideas that might still fit in the current story.
I don’t think this is a six or seven thousand-word story. This is a fairly short story, but I have had so much trouble with it that I have had to try it several different ways.
I still really like it though. There is something good in this story, but even after writing more than twice the words it needs (actually seven or eight times when you take the revisions into account), I haven’t quite nailed it. It’s very close, but it’s not there yet.
Maybe this week.
Best Games - Lode Runner
The first version of Lode Runner I ever played was on the Atari 800. Then I played it on a Commodore 64. And then on an Apple II. And then on a PC. I just played the Arcade version on a Steam Deck. And then again in a browser.
In every single case, Lode Runner is brilliant.
Developed by Doug Smith, allegedly Lode Runner was based off a recollection of a retelling of a kid’s time at an arcade playing Space Panic and a somewhat failed attempt to recreate Donkey Kong. Lode Runner and Space panic share the ability of the main character to dig holes and have pursuers fall into those holes, but that’s about it. Where Space Panic is an action game, Lode Runner is a puzzle game through and through.
I think that’s what makes Lode Runner so special. It’s a puzzle game, where you might have to play a little action game jazz to arrive at the solution. Juking and dodging are tools just as vital to your success as planning and strategizing. This ain’t Donkey Kong either. Moving in one direction and dealing with threats as they come to you won’t help win a level of Lode Runner.
Lode Runner is a game about stealing gold, including gold that guards might pick it up as they pursue you, escaping, and then stealing all the gold on the level. Sometimes you can approach the level in a haphazard manner, and sometimes only a perfectly precise path will solve a specific level’s puzzle. You won’t know what sort of level you are on until you fail at it a few times. Since the game has something like 150 of the things, you aren’t likely to get bored. And even if you do, Lode Runner has a remedy for that.
Lode Runner is one of the first games that shipped with a level editor. You could make your own levels, or modify the existing ones, to make any sort of challenge you want. The real joy of this feature would be to see your friends attempt to beat difficult levels that you created, unfortunately I didn’t have any friends with an Atari 8bit computer, so I just made weird levels for myself. Not gonna lie, it was still fun.
More important than the level editor, or the hybrid, action, puzzle gameplay was what Lode Runner meant to game design in general. While there eventually was an arcade port, Lode Runner isn’t an arcade game. Lode Runner takes advantage of the environment in which it is experienced. Lode Runner is a computer game. It expects that you will be at home, on your computer. You will try one puzzle room again and again to perfect it. This is one of the earliest games that understands where it is and how that changes the way you play it. Lode Runner is undoubtedly an influence on later home console games like Legend of Zelda, games that are built around a different way of playing. A different pace. A different level of focus. This is a game that isn’t content to only hold your attention for ten minutes at a time. This is a game that knows that you might have hours to devote, and it lets you.
Type Lode Runner into a web browser and go play any of the many html5 versions out there. You won’t be sorry. It is one of the best games, after all.
Sometime in the early 90s, I was flipping through channels and stopped on this amazing movie. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know how long it had already been running, and I barely knew what anyone was saying.
I watched all of it.
It was Wim Wenders 1987 film, Wings of Desire. It had just started, it was in German, French, and English, but it was playing on the French channel so I could only get so much context from the subtitles. It didn’t matter. It was absolutely wonderful.
A few years later, I watched it again, only this time with English subtitles. Aside from a few minor subtleties, I hadn’t really missed any of the core story or themes that first time. It was a movie you could watch without understanding most of the lines, and it still made sense.
While I think that Wings of Desire is a fantastic movie and you should probably watch it, if you haven’t, praising it isn’t the point I’m getting angling toward.
Wim Wenders understood the medium of film so well that he made a movie you could love without understanding any of the languages spoken in it.
I’ve played a few games, video games, recently that don’t seem to understand the medium they are working in. Where movies have to tell the story visually at least as much, if not more, than through dialog and description, games have to tell theirs through interaction.
The game Disco Elysium is incredibly dense with text and voice acting. It’s several novels worth of words and description, but it wouldn’t work without the interactive element. Creating the character, and the world, through your choices is at the core of the game. Everything is built around the interaction between the player and the systems of the game.
Several recent visual novel style games, on the other hand, have you click through a series of paragraphs that are delivered in an extremely linear style. This is the same level of interaction as turning the page of a book. Just because the player presses a button, does not mean that the interaction was meaningful or core to the experience.
I won’t ever go so far as to say, or even imply, that this makes these games bad or unenjoyable. There are a lot of people who dearly love the stories told in these visual novels. They are not wrong. The stories could be amazing, but the medium isn’t being used to enhance the experience. It’s a mismatch.
Wings of Desire held my attention for two hours because it used every part of every frame to tell the story. It is a movie, through and through.
Games are a much younger medium, so maybe the vocabulary hasn’t been fully developed yet. They are also a very important and impactful medium. There is so much yet to do in games. So many interactive experiences and stories. But to do it, I think it’s important to ask “why a game?” as opposed to a book or comic or film. If it’s difficult to answer “why a game?”, maybe what you are making is something else.
We’ve had the Steam Deck here for a while now. It’s a great machine. We have played a handful of modern games with it, but, in all honesty, I mostly play old games on it. Mostly Street Fighter.
I did play Street Fighter using a gamepad for a while when I first discovered Mame and other emulators. But not for very long, and not seriously.
I built my first arcade stick in about 1998. I have had an arcade stick or arcade cabinet ever since. At times, a couple of them. If I wanted to play arcade fighting games at any time in those years, I played on an arcade stick.
Any time I played a fighting game on a gamepad I didn’t really have a feel for it. I would swap back and forth between the stick and the D-Pad, never really finding my groove with either. I wouldn’t know how to map the buttons, so I would end up putting my heavies on the face buttons and just never using my medium punch or kick. It was so foreign to the way I was used to playing. I could get a fireball or hurricane kick to come out once or twice per match. Dragon punches? Forget about it. I just could not get my thumb to perform the movements.
The convenience of the Steam Deck has changed how I play fighting games. I think I will always prefer an arcade stick (bats not balls), but I think I get it now. I am incrementally catching up to all those kids who played a ton of Super Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting on the SNES. I can crank out fireballs all day on a DPad now. I can even get the dreaded dragon punch to come out 9 times out of 10.
I am not now, nor will I ever be, a master at fighting games, but I still have fun playing them. I crank up the computer difficulty pretty high to make the early fights more difficult (though that does mean that the cpu does some pretty wild stuff that a human could never do) and I am getting more and more good wins with gamepad style controls. I still get stomped a little past halfway through the arcade campaign, but that is sort of intentional. These games were made to eat quarters after all.
I knew that we would use the Steam Deck to play current games, and I knew that I would put emulators on there and use it to play older games, but I didn’t really think that it would change the way I play one of my favorite genres. I have a noticeable callus on my left thumb from doing quarter circle swipes.
Maybe I can use it to understand the charge system in Art of Fighting. I doubt it.