Quite a few years ago, I decided to write something and post it up here at least once a week. So every week for at least four hundred and eighty-two weeks, I wrote (and occasionally drew or painted) something and posted it. At first, none of it was fiction. I didn’t know how to write fiction.
Then, slightly fewer years ago, I decided to write fiction. I’m not really sure why. I had an idea for a story, so that’s what I wrote. I wrote something short, because I thought that would be easier than writing something long. In one way, I suppose that is true. Since there are fewer words, you can look it over and see all the things that you want to change and wish you had written better in a shorter span of time. In that way, it’s easier. In another, much more real way, shorter stories aren’t easy at all.
By now, I have written somewhere around twenty short stories. And a few much longer ones. Most of them are finished. A few of them I am still working on. One of the unfinished ones is about a third of a book. In a lot of ways, writing that one is a lot easier than the short ones. In a longer story, you have more room to breath. You don’t need to be as precise. The words don’t need to be as densely packed.
In all this time, for whatever stupid reason, I haven’t been reading short stories. I have been reading novels, but I read fairly slowly, so I don’t plow through dense tomes or epic series. It didn’t occur to me that I could read short stories.
As soon as I decided to try to sell a few short stories, I figured I should read some.
Surprise, surprise, short stories are freakin great. They can get weird in ways that a novel rarely could. Exploring single topics fully without getting bogged down in too much extraneous drama. They usually take less than an hour or so to read, and if one of them doesn’t fully hit, you can probably move on to the next pretty easily.
I realize that it seems obvious and idiotic, that if I was going to write short stories, I should also read them, but what can I tell you, It honestly didn’t occur to me.
Also, it seems, the world of sci-if shorts, at the very least, is extremely punk. In all the good ways. In all the counterculture and nonconformist ways that you want good writing to be. That’s probably not me, since I am a pretty bland white guy, but I sure do like to read it.
If what I have been reading is any indication, the future of genre writing is a lot less bland and white. I’m 100% here for it. If I can slip one or two of my semi-optimistic adventures in there with all the punks, I will be grateful.
After I did NanoWriMo I took a bit of time off. I put the files away and didn’t look at any of the words I wrote for a good couple of weeks.
I think that’s a pretty natural impulse. I had worked on one story every day for a month and I needed a bit of distance from it before I came back to assess where to go from there.
I’m not super precious with my words, and I won’t hesitate to throw away and rework large chunks of text, if I think it will make the story better. Still, sometimes I think I need some time away from a bit of writing before I can really look at it and figure out what I can do to improve it.
Not what’s wrong. Imagining that something is ‘wrong’ with a piece of writing supposes that there is some way to make it right. I don’t think there is. I think there are ways to strengthen and improve a bit of writing. I think that you can make something better by reworking it, or rewriting it. But that isn’t a destructive act. You aren’t taking out what is broken and replacing it with something you fixed. You are refining a sketch.
Right now I have a bit over 50000 words of sketch. Some of the lines are very clear and I can just leave them as they are. Others wander all over the page and don’t really connect up to anything. The forms are undefined and the contrast between forms isn’t as strong as it needs to be.
I won’t use any color metaphors, since I’m no good at color in painting either.
In drawing terms, right now I have a line of action and some ill defined shapes. I have built up the faith in myself that if I were at this stage of a drawing, I could probably finish it. I don’t really have that with writing yet. I think I will get the story to where it needs to be, but I needed to take a few weeks away to regroup and refocus.
Now that I am back, looking at it again, I think the base sketch might be alright. I’ll keep working on it.
Best Games - Aliens TC Doom Mod
I realize this isn’t a game.
No. I’m not going to go that far. It is a game. It is a fully formed game. Not a wholly original work, but that’s not important, is it?.
It’s a mod. A mod of Doom.
The Aliens TC (total conversion) Doom Mod uses all the built-in content of Doom, controls, gameplay, a fair bit of the graphics and sounds, but it also adds a lot of its own additions.
There is no doubt that the movie Aliens had a massive impact on game development in the early 90s. Games where you battle against unstoppable hordes of monsters were nothing new, but the thrill ride mentality of Aliens was an easy bleed over to the newly minted genre of first person games. Doom already had a lot of Aliens in its DNA.
Licensed games in the early 90s were a bit of a crap shoot. Most of the ones made during that time were cross marketing tie-ins with little or no intrinsic value. There is a tragically large library of 8 and 16 bit licensed games that are absolute junk.
Making a game built on the Doom engine that follows the events of Aliens, seems like it would be a no-brainer. Space marine walks down darkened hallways shooting monsters. It’s surprising there wasn’t ten of them. Of course, due to the track record of movie tie-in games, they would probably have been awful.
So what’s to be done about it then. If you’re Justin Fisher, you pick up the Doom modding tools and do it yourself.
Aliens TC includes a full campaign of custom levels, sounds and graphics ripped from the movie, and reskinned and tuned weapons made to resemble the ones in the film. There had been game mods before Aliens TC, but none of them took the base of a game and built an entirely new one on top of it. There are games like Heretic, where Raven software took the Doom engine and built something else entirely out of it, but that was an effort on the scale that a single person could never have accomplished it. For the most part, the Aliens TC was made by one guy.
It was a good mod, and that is great and all, but why is Aliens TC important at all in the history of video games? Mods don’t typically deserve much mention in the history of the medium.
Aliens TC wasn’t just good. It was a fundamental shift in the way people thought about games. This was a massive effort, but one that could be accomplished by a single person. The tools that the original game developers used were available, and sometimes they shipped on the disc with the game. The separation of engine and game had just hit a pivot point, and one guy decided to take advantage of it.
For anyone that thought about getting into game development, there was before Aliens TC, when you needed a comp-sci degree or 10000 hours of bedroom coding on an 8bit computer, and there was after Aliens TC, when anyone sufficiently dedicated to the task could learn some tools and make a mod.
Even if you had no interest in making games, Aliens TC was an extremely fun way to play a game you already owned all over again. Only this time you get to shoot xenomorphs.
Aliens TC for Doom is one of the best games.
I’m almost done editing up one story, and I have another that is about fifty percent done. I don’t know if they will find homes anywhere, but I think at least one of them is pretty ‘marketable’. It’s short, concise, but presents a sense of place and time that is the sort of thing people look for in short stories. At least it’s the sort of thing that I look for, and last I checked, I was people.
That was all last year stuff. My goal for this year is one short story a month and finish the 70k or so words left in the book I’m writing. I’m much too far into it to stop now.
I think one short story a month is a pretty good pace for me. If I was writing all the time, I think I would go faster, but that seems like a totally workable pace.
I definitely have no lack of ideas. I have about twenty short story ideas in a document here, and that’s only the ones I already committed to digital paper. I probably have a notion for one or two new ones every week. Now, most of them suck, but there are a lot of ideas.
I have mostly focused on sci-fi stories and speculative fiction stories, because that is the sort of thing I like. I think I might branch out a bit though. I also like some other genre fiction. Some horror or fantasy. Mostly, I will continue my trend of writing characters that are, by a lot of people’s interpretation, bland. They will be mostly kind or nice, and if they are ‘the bad guy’ they will have to have a good and valid (to themselves) reason for it. There will be no moustache twirlers, dark lords, or Darth Sidious’s on my watch. I find those characters dull beyond reckoning. They are not the opposite of a moral protagonist. The opposite would be someone who chooses a malicious path because they can somehow justify the ends. That might be bland or not larger than life, but I will like them. Since I’m the one writing them, that’s what they will be.
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.
I'm in the home stretch. Only a couple thousand words until I hit 50000 for NaNoWriMo.
I don't know if what I have written can be made into something good, but, right now, it seems likely. There is enough here that I think the final book will be around 100,000-120,000 words... which falls right in line with average book length. I have no intention, or desire, at this point to turn it into a sprawling trilogy or grandiose expanded universe. It's a single, contained story. A modern fantasy, semi-romantic comedy, with some darker real world themes. Mostly though, it's an adventure story. It's meant to be fun. So far I think it is.