I finished a game this week. I was glad to have played it, but I was sad to have finished it.
The DLC for the original Outer Wilds, Echoes of the Eye. It’s a DLC that is so substantial that it’s almost an entire game on its own.
This is a feeling that I never get from movies, very rarely get from TV series, and occasionally get from books. Games, though, I get it a lot from games.
I think it’s a factor of time spent and thoughts devoted. A really good book, with a story that hooks me, will have me thinking about it for days or weeks. It is the rare TV series that will make me think about it for a while after I’m done watching it. Games are experiences that you have to exist in. There are areas of the first Dark Souls that I know as well as streets of my home town. I expect they will echo back to me for years or even decades to come.
Outer Wilds is the sort of game that makes me wish I could experience it again for the first time.
When you finish this DLC, a story that is woven into the original so deftly that it could easily be part of the original play through, you have the option of stopping there or going back and completing the original game with the new knowledge you have acquired. I chose the second one.
It had been a while since I had finished the main game, so rather than puzzle out what I had to do again, I looked up a walkthrough. Outer Wilds is a game that you can finish in a matter of minutes once you know what to do, so I belted off and started getting things done. Turns out I probably didn’t need the walkthrough. As soon as I started completing tasks, it was like rapid fire nostalgia. I remembered everything and nailed every step. The story of that journey is part of me now. Just like the stories of Star Wars, or hundreds of episodes of Star Trek, Outer Wilds is embedded in my memory. Not because I watched it so many times, but because I experienced it. Games can do that. They create a different sort of memory. That’s why you feel it more when they are over. It’s not like a movie, with a two-hour runtime, or a book with a set number of pages. A lot of games are experiences you live in for as long as you want to keep going. And when you end them, it’s because you choose to end them. I didn’t want my time in Outer Wilds to be over, but I knew that I had seen all that it offered, and it was time to let it go. It didn’t end, I decided that it was time to stop playing. To stop existing in that world.
As far as storytelling mediums go, I think that is unique to games. The player chooses when they are over.
I was felt sad to finish Echoes of the Eye, but I am immensely glad that I played it. If you haven’t played Outer Wilds, you absolutely should. Just don’t blame me for your lingering ennui and melancholy. That’s just part of the experience.
Best Games - NHL 96
I don’t play a lot of sports games. I have definitely dabbled. The odd baseball or football game. Maybe a basketball game or two. Many car racing games. I have always preferred video games that were fantasies. Things I could never do in real life. I have a ball glove and a baseball. I don’t have a rocket pack or a sword. Even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to use it. Playing a game of catch wouldn’t get anyone to look twice, but I really couldn’t walk down my back path with a katana.
The real world sport that I have played more than any other is hockey. I have only spent a few years of my life not playing hockey. Those were the first few and the most recent few. For the first few, I couldn’t skate, and for the last few, well, no one could.
There are a lot of sports game that are not simulations. They are arcade style games with a loose sports attachment. A sort of vestigial draw that people can recognize. Games like NBA Jam or NFL Blitz. They don’t really have a lot to do with the sports they are based on. Something like 90% of all car racing games are not really about the sport of racing.
This tends to work out in the game's favour. The closer a game hews to actual simulation, the more likely it is to come up short. There are simply not enough buttons on a controller, not a granular enough interface available, to describe the intricacies of most sports. You can pretend to Quarterback the Dallas Cowboys, but you can’t simulate throwing a perfect thirty yard spiral with a game pad. Not really.
There is no way to properly simulate playing hockey in a video game. No VR system will ever have the fidelity to incorporate the full body experience of skating, slapping a one timer, or executing a poke check.
Still, I know what hockey is supposed to feel like. How the game is supposed to move and flow. NHL 96 (on PC, and even somewhat on consoles) was a massive leap above every video game representation of hockey before it. NHL 96 took the momentum and agility of moving on ice, and actually did a pretty good job of representing it. AI players made an attempt at playing their positions. The puck slid and bounced in ways that approximate realistic.
A lot of simplifications were made to keep the game fun and accessible, but, for someone who had, up to that point, played a lot of hockey, the game felt like hockey. Up until that point, I had never played a game that felt anything like a real sport.
Is it perfect? Of course not. Are any of the subsequent versions of the game perfect? Also, a big nope. They never will be, and that’s okay. Sometimes you want the feel of hockey without going to the rink and lacing up your skates. The developers of NHL 96 seemed to feel the same way. This is not an arcade game that looks sort of like hockey, it’s the feeling of hockey in a simplified form.
It probably won’t go down as the best sports game. Hockey games will never match the popularity of soccer, football, or basketball games. None of them will ever have the universal appeal of racing games. For one, brief shining moment, there was a sports game that aimed to simulate what the game felt like, and that deserves some recognition.
NHL 96 is one of the best games.
So I did it. I wrote a little over 50000 words in one month. Here is the postmortem.
I guess I’ll answer the two main questions that I had going in.
The first question I had was simple. Could I do it? And if I could, how hard would it be?
So the answer to the first was obviously, yes. I wrote around 1700 words every single day for 30 days. Some days I wrote slightly less, some days slightly more. There was one day that I wrote 3000. So the answer to the first question was, yep. I absolutely can write 50000 words in a month.
The second question is a little more difficult. Was it hard? Well, yes and no. Simply typing 2000 or even 3000 words in a day, or really in a few hours, isn’t that hard. Making up 1700 words of new story every day is a little more difficult. The main problem was that I didn’t have a super clear idea where the story was going sometimes, and I sort of had to make it up on the fly. Usually I would make some sort of plan for what I was going to write the next day and then try as hard as I could to follow that plan. Sometimes it went off the rails and I would have to backtrack to fix it.
The next things that I think people would want to know about taking on a challenge like this is, does it make you faster at writing? Does it make you a better writer?
To answer the first question, for me at least, it didn’t make me a faster writer. It took me anywhere from two to four hours every day to finish those words. Without fail. I never got faster. While I can type relatively quickly, I don’t think I’m a very fast writer. I make mistakes and I backtrack, and I have trouble finding the exact words I want sometimes.
I did notice that my writing got much more intricate as I went on. I started to take a wider view while still working on the sentence to sentence beats of a scene. I started to plan setups and reveals that would be pages or chapters away. While I don’t think that what I wrote is very good yet, it needs a lot of editing and scene changes to make the characters consistent and more fully featured. I started to work on the long arcs of the plot. I set up mysteries that I know how to pay off later (and some that I don’t yet). So far, for as thin as it is, the story functions. It does the things it needs to do to make a reader turn the page. It will take a lot of work to finish it, but it’s on its way.
Would I do it again? I don’t know. Maybe. It is a good way to kick-start a book. And it shows you how much work writing a whole book might be. I suppose you could write a novella in that time, but I scoped a story that will take between one hundred thousand and one hundred twenty thousand to tell. I only really got close to the middle of the book.
I think if I did it again, I would come with more planning. I had a short story and a handful of notes, but no real plan, so I had to make it up as I went. While that can work well, I wouldn’t recommend it as a method of creating very polished writing. What I have right now points me in a direction, but there is no way I could sell it. It’s just too messy.
What all of this did prove to me was, if you worked full time as a writer, you could write at least a book a year by typing up around 2000 words a day. It would take a few hours, and then you would have to spend the rest of the day fixing those words to make them something someone would want to read. It would be a full time job, but not an easy one.