nonlinear storytelling

October 21, 2007 at 8:22 pm (fiction, gaming, meta, rant)

okay, so this is going to be a bit of a rambling rant of a post. feel free to skip it if you have no desire to hear my (rather unorganized) thoughts about nonlinear storytelling. well hell, i figure everyone can feel free to skip ANYTHING i post about. after all, the majority of it isn’t really earthshaking news.

but i’m getting off topic.

lately i’ve been thinking a lot about nonlinear storytelling.

i think this started because of a thread over on the story games community. it started as a discussion about whether or not advancement is necessary in a campaign-style role-playing game. it got me speculating about a game in which, instead of doing the tradition “zero-to-hero” or “farmboy-to-king” kind of storyline, you did the reverse. at first i was thinking about a game in which the character or characters started at the peak of their power and declined… but then i started thinking about a game that would be more in the style of the movie Memento.

for those who aren’t familiar with Memento (and if you aren’t, get out there and rent it! now!) the movie begins with the final scene. we witness the ending of the story, but we don’t know how the characters got into that situation. then, the movie goes backwards, scene by scene, until we’ve seen how things began.

i think this would be a really really cool thing to do in a role-playing game, if there was a good system to use for it.

then, i got to thinking about this supposed novel i’m working on. it wasn’t too long ago that i was meeting with my advisor and we were talking about it, and i said that i wanted to write the end to the story so that i knew where i was aiming. i said that i was concerned if i didn’t have a destination that the novel would just ramble without direction. he said that he’d heard some authors say that if they didn’t write the ending first (or early) they could never finish a book. he said he’d also heard authors say that if they wrote the ending early they would never bother to finish the book.

as always, writing is a pretty personal thing. everyone has their own way. but i did a little writing last night and started writing what is either the end of the book or at least a climax towards the end. and i started thinking more about this idea that if you know the ending, there is no reason to write the beginning. i think it seems pretty strange. i mean, i was making up all kinds of crazy stuff when i was working on the ending. i decided that a character i was writing about a week or so ago was dead (or at least that another character BELIEVED her to be dead) and that all kinds of horrible things were happening to the world.

BUT i hadn’t yet determined how things had come to that point! i mean, it would be as if i was going to read the last Harry Potter book (which i probably will do at some point… i’ve read the first 6 after all) and someone told me that Harry dies (i actually have no idea if he does or not, please note) at the end. i’d still read the damn book because i’d want to know HOW that comes to pass.

in other words, the journey is AT least as important as the destination. why do i care how things end if i have no idea where they started or what happened in between? without being able to see the entire thing, the ending would lack depth and meaning.

so. hmm. i’m not sure where to go with this now. :) except that nonlinear storytelling is nifty. structure is important, of course, and the way most people are used to understanding a story is linearly, but there’s no real reason this is truly required. knowing “the ending” early doesn’t have to ruin anything, not when true comprehension of the story requires experiencing every point along the way. does it really matter in what direction you travel the path as long as you see all the sights along the way?


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indie rpgs – a rambling bunch of thoughts

April 6, 2007 at 10:42 am (gaming, nonfiction, rant)

hmmm. so anyone who knows me, or is big, geeky kind of gamer is probably aware of a growing trend in the role-playing game world these days. independently designed and published games.
whether i like it or not it seems pretty damn clear that the hobby gaming “industry” in general is on a downward slope right now, and i can’t help but think that the role-playing game publishing business especially is slowly but inevitably dying off.
don’t get me wrong: i don’t think gaming will ever die. board games and card games will probably continue to be a fairly viable business, and i’m sure there will always be people that play rpgs, but i think the days of rpg publishing being a realistic business for a company are limited.
but this could actually be a good thing, in some ways.
i’m sure a lot of fans of the hobby might be confused by a statement like this.
“How could the collapse of the companies that produce role-playing games – my favorite hobby – possibly be a good thing!?”

well, my thinking ties into what happened with text adventures.
anyone remember those? text adventures were actually pretty damn popular in the 80s. that’s right, kids! people actually paid good money to play video games that had NO GRAPHICS WHATSOEVER! they were ALL TEXT! Infocom was one of the biggest of these companies, giving us the classic Zork series, among others. i loved some of these games, and i still play them every now and then. but the problem with them was that they were always constrained by the necessity of trying to make games that would make a lot of money. don’t get me wrong, they still made some pretty interesting, inovative games – A Mind Forever Voyaging and Suspended particularly come to mind – but for the most part they were shooting for financial success, as all companies do. the text adventure as a viable commercial product died off, of course, as people (shockingly!) began to expect pretty pictures and sounds with their video games. but, and some of you may be surprised by this, the text adventure never went away completely.
these days the fans tend to call them IF, or interactive fiction. there are quite a lot of them being created even now, by fans, for fans. the people that write them do so because they love the games and they want to share a story that perhaps can only be properly told this way. and freed from the constraints of needing to try to produce games for a company and a paying consumer base, IF authors have been able to create some truly amazing games and stories, the best of which blow the old commercial classics out of the water. games like Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin, Floatpoint by Emily Short, and Slouching Toward Bedlam by Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster are some of the coolest stories I have ever experienced in any medium.

some of this is what i see happening now in the rpg community.
i’ll preface my next statement by pointing out that i have a pretty strong negative bias towards Wizards of the Coast and Dungeons and Dragons so fans of that game and company may very well disagree with me. it doesn’t really seem like WotC is doing anything particularly interesting, exciting, or innovative with D&D. it’s still basically the same game that it always was. it might do what it did better than it used to, but it does pretty much the same thing.
i think White Wolf is slightly better, but not much. i think they did some interesting things with their reboot of their World of Darkness line, and i think what they’re doing with Promethean and Changeling is pretty cool (a planned limited release schedule – allowing them to put something out that might not have the staying power and popularity of Vampire), but other than that, things are still pretty much the same.

fortunately, the indie rpg community didn’t require the full and complete death of the rpg publishing companies to start to grow.
for those who might not know what i’m talking about, when i talk about indie rpgs i just mean games that are designed and published by their creator without needing to go through a bigger publishing company.
i only really started learning about indie games last year, primarily through listening to the excellent gaming podcast Have Games, Will Travel by Paul Tevis. consequently, i know very well there are a lot of games out there i’m not familiar with. mostly what i tend to talk about when i mention indie rpgs are those that tend to be discussed around places like The Forge and the Story Games Community, and get sold on places like Indie Press Revolution.

one of the big reasons these games have begun to spring up so much in recent years all boils down to technology, of course. i have no doubt that people have been creating their own rpgs for a long, long time, sometimes writing down the rules, sometimes not. some of these games certainly went on to become the well known commercially produced games of today. but publishing books and games used to be difficult. not so much anymore. these days it’s pretty damn cheap and easy to write up a set of rules and share it over the internet, for example. the range of options for production quality and sales are wide just for electronic formats alone, and now there are print-on-demand companies like Lulu to make selling physical copies cheap and easy as well. so if you’ve got an idea for a game that you think people would enjoy and/or pay for, there is almost no reason whatsoever NOT to publish it.

still, the market is small. so like the modern-day interactive fiction community, the people who make indie rpgs are doing so because they love the games and they love the hobby, not because they want or expect to get rich from it. to a certain extent this is unfortunate – some of these games are really tremendous (and i speak just from the experience of reading the books) and i think their authors deserve financial rewards for such quality work – but i think i am also glad. i really like the fact that i know each and every one of these games was a true labor of love. no one is writing these things just to try to make a buck.

so i’m excited. these new games i’ve checked out are really interesting. they are a very, very different animal from Dungeons and Dragons or any of White Wolf’s games. people who think they know what role-playing games are all about would be shocked by some of these things, and i think that’s fantastic. D&D is great for those who like what it does, but it shouldn’t be the end all and be all. after all, sometimes you need more tools than just a hammer. sometimes you want to go on a dungeon crawl and shoot magic missiles at knolls, and sometimes you want to do something else.

anyway. this turned into much more of a rambling rant than i intended. i was going to talk about the specific indie games i’ve acquired this far, but since this post is getting so damn long, think i’ll put those thoughts into separate posts of their own.

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on the value of the conclusion…

March 12, 2007 at 6:02 pm (meta, rant)

so i’ve got two stories on here right now that i consider more or less complete. “sense of self” and “self-control.” “sense of self” has a definite conclusion. a paragraph that wraps everything up. “self-control” didn’t, originally, but the version on here now does. the final cut of that story, the one that was actually submitted to quercus, has nothing of the sort.

i’ve been speculating on the value of conclusions the last few days, primarily due to this. it’s a bit of an odd thing to be involved simultaneously in english classes which require formal essays and also creative writing. formal essays demand conclusions. you spell out your objective in a thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, then you lay out your points in a nice, neat, well organized, logical manner, then you reiterate everything and hammer it home even harder in the conclusion. you want to make sure everyone gets the point.

i think this tendency has bled over in my habits with creative writing as well. although my stories might not have a “point” as such when i begin, they often acquire one as i go. while i might not be aesop and trying to include some kind of blatant, uplifting, edifying moral with every thing i write, for some reason when i wrote “sense of self” and when i revised “self-control” i felt like i should make sure everyone got the “point” of the story. i think “sense of self” is probably okay as is, and to a certain extent i like the conclusion i wrote for “self-control” but i am also starting to think that putting a conclusion like that on a piece of fiction is kind of silly. after all, people are probably just as likely (if not more likely) to read fiction for simple amusement and entertainment than for intellectual exploration or to ponder moral conundrums. amusement is certainly the reason for which i write the stuff (that is, i write it because i find the process of doing so amusing. i don’t care so much what anyone else gets from it afterward).

so does a short piece of fiction (or even a long piece, i guess) need or benefit from some kind of conclusion? does an author need to spell out the point, the moral, the lesson, etc. to all the stupid, mindless readers or should he or she just let them figure it out on their own, let them take from it what they will?

at first i was upset that they wanted to cut back “self-control” after asking for more. this was partially because, well, they’d already asked for more and i’d given it to them. but it was also partially because i’d kind of liked the conclusion i’d added. i still do. but on further thought i’m not so sure that it actually adds anything or benefits the piece. maybe it’s just better to show some stuff, tell the readers, “hey, this happened,” and then let them decide what they want it to mean.

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are you kidding me?

March 8, 2007 at 12:51 pm (nonfiction, personal, rant)

my computer angers me.
windows angers me.
windows media player and itunes anger me.

normally i don’t complain about computer things. as one of my brothers put it fairly recently, since i use windows so i pretty much expect computers to suck. but not QUITE this much.

i buy music from itunes.
there are a lot of annoyances associated with this, but despite them i have continued to do so. in fact, i don’t think i’ve bought a physical cd since i aquired my ipod.
itunes is kind of bastard. it pisses me off that they want to control what i do with my music after i have paid them for it, but i continue to utilize their store anyway because the music is cheaper and i can find all kinds of stuff there that i could never find in a physical store in my area.

so i just recently went on a bit of an itunes shopping spree. among other things i bought the album “Taiga” by this japanese group OOIOO. i don’t have anything else by them, though i think i may have heard a song or two before. apparently they are an all girl group and a side project of the Boredoms. i don’t have any albums by the Boredoms either. so don’t really ask me why i decided to buy this except that it sounded cool.

and it does. i listened to it last night and it is totally awesome. i do not regret this purchase whatsoever. in fact, i’ll almost definitely have to check out more of their music and maybe the Boredoms as well now.

one of the steps i take whenever i buy something on itunes is to burn it to a real cd. after all, if my hard drive and ipod both die, i don’t want to lose all the music i have. a common second step is for me to rip the newly burned cd into mp3s. i don’t really like the itunes m4p format. the drm is annoying as hell, plus the format just isn’t very universal. anyway, i’ve done this with a lot of my cds and never had any problems.

but today windows media player, which i use for the ripping, decided to choke on track 2 of taiga. the first time it did this it just froze WMP. i had to kill it and it wouldn’t come up again. i rebooted the computer. second attempt it chokes on track 2 again and this time freezes the WHOLE SYSTEM! i reboot. again. now i’ve decided that either my blank had a problem or itunes screwed up in the burning. so i reburn.

this time everything seems to work okay.
but, as i’m writing this and i decide to check some things in itunes and play a song, the whole thing starts getting choppy and unresponsive and just slow as hell.

stupid, stupid itunes. stupid, stupid windows.

why the hell can’t WMP recognize when a track on a cd is corrupt? does this happen with other media players? i just can’t believe that a flawed track on an audio cd can cause an entire computer operating system to lock up completely and utterly. what the hell!? are you kidding me?

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26 hours

February 27, 2007 at 10:13 pm (news, nonfiction, rant)

on monday at three in the morning we lost power. or rather, to be more precise, our electricity went out.
this sucked.
for those who don’t live in the midwest, we had a lovely huge storm of snow, freezing rain, sleet, all that good stuff on saturday night. a lot of people lost their power.
we weren’t one of them.
i went to work on saturday afternoon, to campus to work an assigned weekend shift in the only mac lab on campus. it was supposed to be an eight hour shift, until midnight, but i was sent home after an hour and a half by campus security because they were locking up the whole building.
still, when i got home, we had power. i talked to a friend the next day – she had lost power for fourteen hours. i felt bad for her. i knew that didn’t sound like much fun. but i figured we were in the clear.
we hardly ever lose power where we live, and when we do its usually only for a few minutes at most.
the storm was all over by sunday.
but yet, on monday morning, something woke me up. i was wide awake and i didn’t know why. then i heard my computer shut down and everything else in the house that makes that house-filling kind of white noise suddenly stop. the house had that kind of quiet that it only ever has when it lacks any electricity.
i dragged myself out of bed, got my cell phone and checked the time. three am. i was awake enough at that point to even set the alarm on my cell phone in case the power didn’t come back on, or i was asleep when it did. but i figured it WOULD be back on, and soon. it wasn’t.
in the morning, seeing that there still was no power, i decided i might as well go to school early and work on things in the library before my eleven am class, since i couldn’t do anything other than read at home. after my classes were over at one, i called home. still no power. i stayed at the library to work.
the outage continued.
even stranger, to me, was the fact that not only had it started after the storm was over, but our power lines are underground. i wondered if it even was connected to the storm, or did we just have the bad luck to have this happen when thousands of other people had lost power due to the storm. the people behind us had power, the people one block away had power. maybe a dozen houses on our block were affected.
finally, the electricity came back on at six in the morning on tuesday.
twenty six hours without power.
it was frustrating, but i can’t claim it was traumatic in any way. more annoying than anything else, and it made me think for awhile about just how much i (and most people in our society) rely on electricity, and electricity provided by an outside source. it made me wish for a “green” house with solar panels, batteries, and bio-fuel powered generators. i hated being paralyzed, driven from my home because of this.
anyway, i’m not sure where else i’m going with this. i just know that being without electricity made me feel “powerless” in more ways then one. it reminded me of how completely dependent most people are on electricity, and that worries me quite a bit.

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stupid wordpress

February 25, 2007 at 10:21 pm (meta, rant)

okay wordpress isn’t quite as awesome as i first thought. i do like it much better than blogger so far, but i also ran into something the other day that just seems stupid.

when i post something, it puts the date and time i did so. it doesn’t sign the post, however. when i noticed this i thought it was strange. after some exploration and experimentation i realized that apparently it’s all based on the layout that i’ve chosen. some layouts show date, time, and name. some (like mine) just do date and time. some just do date and name.

what the hell is up with this!?

i can customize how my date and time is displayed, and that is cool. but why can’t i chose to have it sign my posts regardless of the layout i’m using? why aren’t date, time, and name options that can be selected or deselected for any blog? hell, why not have those options available for every post? it can’t be THAT hard, can it?

anyway, i’m the only writer on this blog, so having it sign my name is kind of redundant anyway… i just thought it was absurd that i can’t choose to have it do so without changing to a whole different layout.

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February 23, 2007 at 9:53 pm (gaming, nonfiction, rant)

so anyone who’s known me more than a day probably knows i’m a gamer.
i frequently end up running the games that i play with my two best friends, but i discovered last year that running games while in school doesn’t really work out.
this saddens me greatly at the moment as i’ve really been wanting to get a game of weapons of the gods going. WotG is a game of overpowered wuxia style action in a fantasy version of ancient china. it’s pretty slick, cool stuff. but nonetheless, running a game just isn’t in the cards right now.fortunately for me and my friends, we have battlestations.battlestations is an excellent, independently designed and published boardgame/rpg hybrid. it has a lighthearted sci-fi theme (think futurama crossed with star wars or star trek) and incredibly nifty mechanics.
while you’ve got the standard starmap with ship counters that you see in games like star fleet battles, or what have you, you’ve also got a modular layout of your players ship, with little standups or minis to represent each crew member. need to turn the ship to avoid crashing into a star? well, get someone to the helm module to do it. need to launch a missile at an enemy ship? someone’s got to be in the missile bay to do it. think an lone asteroid is suspicious and want to scan it? someone has to be in the science bay to run the computer.
in and of itself this might all sound tedious, but it is anything but. in the middle of a starship battle there is always more to do than crew to do it, and when you add to it the fact that with teleporters and boarding missiles (yes, crew can load themselves into a missile and launch themselves at an enemy ship) you might have some of your crew on the enemy ship and enemy crew trying to take over your ship . . . well you have a lot of highly enjoyable chaos.
and this is where the rpg part of the game comes in. by default, one person will referee the game, handling the mission obstacles, doing the rules arbiter thing, and controlling enemy ships, and the other players will each control one crew member a piece, with their own special abilities, alien powers, equipment, skill ratings, etc. characters and their ships will change, grow, and advance as the game goes on.
another nice thing about the game is it’s fairly easy to adjust on the rpg/boardgame spectrum. maybe you’re not into the rpg side – you can easily down play that part and let players control multiple crew members each (in our game the two players both control 2 crew and a couple bots). on the other hand, if you love to ham it up, you can cram all the play acting into the game you want.

of course, i don’t work for gorilla games. i’m not being paid to rant about how awesome the game is. it does have a few problems. for one thing, the books aren’t particularly well laid out. it can sometimes be difficult to find particular rules. they also lack a consistent method for denoting modifiers for die rolls. sometimes penalties are described as adding to the difficulty, sometimes they are described as subtracting from the roll. similarly, bonuses are sometimes described as reducing the difficulty, sometimes as adding to the roll. this is irritated. it would be nice if i could see a minus sign and immediate know – penalty. also, as an independently produced game, the components are somewhat lacking in quality when compared to the price, but this is understandable.
still, these cons are FAR outweighed by the good things about the game. in is an incredibly fun and flexible gaming experience, there is tons of support material out on the web, the designers themselves are readily and quickly reachable via email or the fantastic yahoo group forum.

so if you’re interested in a really cool, different kind of boardgame or rpg experience, buy this game. or come play with me and my friends. we could use a few more players. don’t be scared. we’re nice. :)

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February 23, 2007 at 9:23 pm (nonfiction, personal, rant)

this is going to be short and vague.
but i’ve said it before and i feel it bears repeating.
if sexual orientation really was a matter of choice: i’d be asexual
being attracted to women just doesn’t seem worth the trouble most of the time.

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screaming into the void

December 19, 2006 at 2:14 pm (nonfiction, rant)

i think looking at a pre-designed but completely empty blog page is more daunting that a blank sheet of paper.a blank sheet is all possibilities.this thing feels like a test. like i need to fill in the blanks.

oh well.

i keep wondering why i’m even here. i feel like i’m jumping on a bandwagon and doing it too late, to boot. i have other options for blogging. i’m on facebook, myspace, and okcupid, all of which offer some kind of blogging functionality. but i consider myspace so evil that i’m constantly on the verge of just deleting my account. in fact, i recently deleted every bit of information from my profile that i possible could. it hurts just to visit the site. viewing most profiles there makes me feel like someone is jabbing a broken toothpick into my optic nerves. facebook is okay, and i do post occaisional notes there, but mostly just things relating to school. okcupid is amusing, but well, as others have said, blogging on what is still, at its heart, an online dating site is kind of weird.

so i’m here.

as always, this kind of thing feels something like the intellectual equivalent of masturbation. it seems kind of fruitless and frivolous. but one of my brothers suggested it so i figured, “What the hell?” but still my brothers, Steev and Allan, both have blogs, but it seems like they have good reasons for them. do i? i’m not sure. to me it’s kind of like shouting into a canyon, hurling your words and thoughts into some huge space and listening to them bounce back to you. maybe that’s useful. maybe i don’t need other people to read this for it to have value. we’ll see.

so what’s this all about then?

well, to start with my assumption is, if you’re seeing this you’re either: a) me, b) someone i told about it. so i’m not gonna do the whole “about me” junk. you people know who am, more or less. beyond that, i suppose i’ll do what a lot of people do with blogs, rant about stuff they’re interested in.

i also intend to use this to post fiction. possibly pieces i’ve already written, but also possibly more spontaneous little fragments of fictive gibberish.

but more than anything else, i suppose it’s just a place for me to scream into the void.

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