Thursday, December 07, 2006

Characterisation - A starting point

Knowing a character's background helps you figure out their voice.

That's because the way a person speaks reflects their interests. The metaphors they use, the subjects they talk about, and the grammatical structure of how they talk about them.

Examples ... A journalist who asks incisive questions, likes finding out facts, and enjoys talking about current events. A computer programmer whose sentences are logical and precise. In real-life, I've recently noticed how much I use television shows and script-writing techniques in conversation. I compared a job situation to working on a 'West Wing' election campaign; if I want to know about someone's past, I ask "What's their backstory?" Frankly, it's begun to irritate me.

Conclusion: if a person's focused (or obsessive) about what they're interested in, their speech becomes more one-dimensional. Which is great, because it makes them easier to characterise, ... and not so good if you're a real person.

What else affects speech patterns? Class, education, temperament, ethnicity, friends. There's a whole bunch of continuums that are useful to think about - does this person have high or low self-esteem? How certain or ambivalent are they? Where do they fit on continuums like:

- caring/selfish
- honest/deceitful
- ambitious/contented
- direct/passive-aggressive
- clear thinking/fuzzy thinking
- practical/dreamer?


When two people meet, they also talk about the things they have in common - which can be their social group or it can be shared interests. And what they talk about can be the thing they care most about at that moment. That's possibly not so useful for creating conflict in a scene, but it gives me two good questions for figuring out a scene's starting point, to create a sense of reality.

What do these people have in common?
What do they care about most, right now?


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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Limit - "... slide"

I just got to a section of the script I've been dreading - and it seems to be going fast, painless and good. I have much relief at this.

Also, a tip (perhaps applicable only to me): I find that if I'm blocked on a script, I actually get a lot of work done if I take a train up to the Kapiti Coast. The secret is to not bring anything else to read or do . There's something about boredom that really forces me to write.

Commuting. Environmentally friendly and creative.
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Friday, December 01, 2006

Time to celebrate

The good news is my hands are now pain-free most of the time. There is no bad news.

This is just the end of the first stage. Now I know that if there's pain, it'll go away if I manage it right. I don't freak out about it. The next stage is to focus on diet and exercise, to get healthy and take care of myself.

It's been a tough three years. I want to thank:

- Sean, for helping me get a great job where I could start to pushing myself.
- My physio at the Te Aro Hand clinic who taught me that while all pain is just in your head, some pain is more in your head than others.
- Cathy, for connecting me with someone who'd been through it too.
- And all my friends and family, who put up with me.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Limit - Easy, Hard, Easy

Man, this frickin' script. I had a great start to the rewrite (5 pages in one day, which is fantastic for my first day). Then I hit this big father-son scene at page 14 and get bogged down in it for 2 and a half weeks until I figure out what it's really about (clue: it's personal).

Anyway, once I figured out the heart of the scene, it flowed easily & the script has kept going at a nice rate. I still hope to have it all finished for sending out to producers by New Year, but I also hoped to have the fine-tuning draft finished by tomorrow ... and with 60 pages to go, that's a little on the unlikely side.

Now I'm making some decisions about whether the mid-point for the cops' subplot needs to be as BIG as I have thought for the last couple of years. I'm beginning to think it doesn't - the script now has an intensity and flow to it that mean big on-the-nose plot points start to get in the way of the reader finding out what happens next.

Developing.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A thread about pdf piracy

An extremely practical thread over at the Forge about the publisher of Panty Explosion (the RPG of psychic Japanese schoolgirls) dealing with .pdf piracy.
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Monday, October 30, 2006

How I brainstorm a scene

Sometimes the writing of a scene just flows – every line clicks into place; it’s easy to visualise the action – and that is awesome.

Other times, not so easy. That’s when I have to get a bit mechanical. I roughly outline the beats that I know will be in a scene, and then I B20 (brainstorm 20 options) for each character in the scene – for their overall motivation, all their reactions, and every line of dialogue.

When I do that, I’m looking to find truth about the characters, insight into them, and either originality or authenticity.

Every time I go through the B20 process, I tend to got through the same emotions and reactions. What I’m trying to do here is describe that pattern and then (hopefully) isolate some key questions to ask, that’ll speed up the whole thing up.


  1. First off, the obvious lines are the ones I write down.
  2. Then variations (sometimes very slight) on those obvious lines.
  3. Random lines, as they occur to me.
  4. Come up with a few arbitrary lines, that don’t really fit with what the beat’s trying to do.
  5. Write a line that hits the mark. Experience satisfaction, then slack off / consider giving up or settling. This (and every point here) can happen multiple times during a B20.
  6. Spell out the subtext behind the line.
  7. Play around with that.
  8. Try another subtext. Every subtext I find is a different area to explore and mine for possibilities.
  9. Realise that the line doesn’t exist in isolation and link it back to the previous one(s), so it flows.
  10. Imagine the actor who’s saying the line.
  11. I get exhausted towards the end, and struggle to come up with lines.
  12. That’s when I re-read it all and jot down any lines that occur to me from reading all the others.
  13. Towards the end, I almost always get a fresh insight (or two) into what’s really going on.
  14. And I usually write down some crazy, usually rude or sociopathic stuff just to get the thing finished off.

So, what can I distil from that?

Before I begin:
Bear in mind that the line doesn’t exist in isolation. It needs to flow from what has come before.
Imagine the actor who’s saying the line.

Then:
  1. First off, write down the obvious lines.
  2. Then spell out the subtext behind the beat, and play around with that.
  3. Once those lines dry up, try another subtext. Feel free to write down random lines, as they occur to me.
  4. Then re-read it all. Jot down any lines that occur to me from that.
  5. I always get a fresh insight (or two) towards the end.
  6. Finish off with some arbitrary stuff.

Then I go through the list of 20 options, circling the ones that appeal to me. Create a separate list of those options and choose the one that most appeals. The point is not to get it perfect; it’s to get it done. This is the point to rust my instinct and save ‘perfection’ for the rewrite, once I see how the line plays in the context of the whole show.

If, at any point, the scene just completely tries up for me, I use the Brian Johnson trick of tracking back a few lines or a page and seeing where it all started to go wrong. It’s usually quite obvious in hindsight.

I don’t get the scenes completely right using this process, but so far every time I’ve re-read one it’s been obvious where it works and where it doesn’t.
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Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Limit - a nice bath and a read

Further to my last post, about what to do at this stage of the script, I found going for a long walk and just jotting down thoughts about the script as they came to was a good way of organising my memories of what needed to be improved with the script.

I used a mind-map, and drew four spokes (one for each act) and then placed each memory on the appropriate spoke.

Then I fine-tuned the proper notes.

Today, I just had a long bath and a re-read of the script - where I found myself jotting down ideas and suggestions. The script was much more enjoyable this time round (perhaps I was less judgmental?) and the flaws seemed obvious - or at least the obvious flaws did.

Next step is to go through all the feedback and the marked up script and see if there are any global problems (affecting the whole story) that need to be resolved before I start rewriting. If not, I'll just go scene by scene - which has worked well for me in the last few drafts.

(Idea: I should set up another folder for each script, to store all of my Engagement Charts, so I can easily find them and compare between drafts.)
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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Land of the Dead

wr. George Romero

A zombie movie that is less tense than Romero's other 'Dead' movies. At the start of the film, the survivors have reached an equilibrium with the zombies. They're not under immediate threat, and civilisation is being re-established - we've moved from Day of the Dead (where there was stability and protection for a small group) to Land where a city has been taken back from the zombies. At the same time, the zombies are also beginning to form a society.

I find it hard to talk about this film without referencing the three that preceded it. Land is a movie with less threat, and more fun & toys. The zombie carnage is kinda ... perfunctory. It feels like it's there because we expect the zombies to breach into civilisation when we watch a Romero zombie movie. Hell, I'm not sure what other story you can in the zombie genre other than the threat to & dissolution of a fragile civilisation. Even The Walking Dead plays with those beats.

The heroes in Land feel like they have Hollywood hero immunity; the threats to them aren't played for keeps. However, by the end of the film, I feel that they've lost their immunity & from here on, things are going to get rough for them. And this really does feel like the first in a trilogy - like these characters have just been set up & will go through hell in following films.

Land feels way more ... coherent and conventional that the first three. Which I like, because it's not repetitive. But not a lot happens, the story is actually mostly set up, with a little bit of Die Hard and a little bit of zombie carnage thrown in.

Because of the more Hollywood-style, I don't *care* as much about the characters as in previous Dead movies. I don't feel the deaths as much (maybe because there are more people dying?). But I do love the performances. All of them are grounded (even Dennis Hopper isn't playing it camp), they're wry, and just world-weary and shocked enough without being too downbeat. There's a lot of life and professionalism to these characters and I'd like to see more of them.
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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

wr. James Gunn

This is a review of the plot of the DotD remake. I'm quite interested in the structure because for me it moves from working to not working back to working. And it does so in a way that's similar to Trainspotting; it's fascinating when focusing on the characters responding to their situation, but feels less intelligent & more stereotypical whenever it introduces 'plot' hooks that don't come from the characters.

By the 10 minute mark, we've established Sarah Polley's nurse as the main character and that the world is falling apart. By 35 minutes, our core cast has been established and they're in a tough situation (prisoners of the mall's security guards).

The Midpoint comes at the 50 minute mark when the characters discover that being bitten turns you into a zombie. This forces the core cast to make decisions (like will they kill bitten people, or say if they've been bitten). Up till now, I've enjoyed the movie - I like the characters, they've acted smart at every turn, and they've had to respond to the pressures of the situation.

Now the movie skips forward somewhere between a week and a few months.

The movie starts to fail at about the 55 minute mark, once a routine of safe daily life in the mall has been established. In order to put the characters into zombie jeopardy the script has to manufacture situations. In this case, the generator goes out, forcing some of the team to go fix it. While that seems arbitrary, there's a zombie pregnancy going on at about 70 minutes that I can get behind but it's not utilised to create more zombie menace (the two people killed in the ensuing gun fight don't turn, for instance).

At 75 minutes, the nurse says "I don't want to die here." She wants them to leave the mall. This sets up the plot for the rest of the film.
Logically, it's a reasonable position. Eventually the food will run out. But I haven't been emotionally convinced as to why they have to leave. Just as an example, I haven't seen any 'deterioration' in their quality of life at the mall.

But after a quick inversion of the Andy situation at the 80 minute mark (which manufactures a crisis of needing to rescue Nicole and leave the mall ahead of schedule), I buy into the action movie chaos that follows as they escape. It's good dumb fun. However, the finale and aftermath are a return to the subtler, nastier horror that I liked in the film's opening third.

***

Luke, ideas this gave me for Game of the Dead:

- give the players incentives for taking risks & reward characters who do.
- maybe PCs have immunity from getting bitten (like hit points, but let's call it 'Life')
To succeed at anything costs you point(s) of Life. To get life back, you have to create a fuck up (like the zombies breach a layer of security, or you put someone in danger, or similar 'why are you acting like an idiot?' moments for characters in zombie films).
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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Gametime update

I've posted a summary of why I believe theory can be useful to gaming over at Gametime.
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The Limit - spring cleaning

So, I've just drawn up the chart for how engaged I was during this read.

Now I have to:

- write down (on one page) the fundamentals of what needs to be done with this draft, based solely my memories of reading it. I will not refer to either the script or my notes during this process.

- tidy up my more in-depth notes, which will involve comparing them to the .wav file that I dictated, and possibly simplifying or categorising my observations.

- re-read the script.

Aside: I watched a show called Quite Interesting last night, a BBC comedy/quiz hosted by Stephen Fry. Lots of fun, but I'm finding the memory of his polished and grammatically precise manner of speaking is making me very self-conscious about my writing right now.
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Limit - rebeginning

Re-read the script after about a month off. There was a six page stretch (of restructured and new material) in the middle where I was just thinking "Oh my god" over and over again at how tense the writing was making me.

Wicked.

Now to chop a little bit out of the first act, rework Turning Point 2 a lot, and figure out the ending again (it's still not quite working).

I'm not sure what to do next - probably draw up my Engagement Chart, do the notes and then re-read it.

***

Other script tip stuff, while I remember:

Have two folders - one for the current draft, and one for the next draft.
Jane Espenson pointed out that you can ask what's the script about, and then you can ask what it's really about. Both questions are useful for keeping your writing on track.
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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lost - new season

Without spoilers, here's what I think:

a) great opening sequence
b) they've consciously gone for an approach that'll make it easier for new viewers to join in.
c) some flashbacks are less interesting than others
d) the show isn't compelling yet.
e) The Others ARE the new Hatch.
f) I loved the ending.

Oh, and thanks to Kung Fu Monkey for revealing what the numbers really mean, [Big spoilers if you click on that link] as revealed in the Lost ARG (Alternate Reality Game). And for bringing the idea of the numbers stations to my attention - my Big Book of Conspiracies never mentioned those.
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Veronica Mars opening credits

I'm really digging the remixed VM theme tune, a little downbeat, a lot cool.

Plus it seems that the network-imposed structure of smaller mysteries may really work out. I'm enjoying how fast the case is progressing.

(And once again, effortless introduction of new characters to the supporting cast.)
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Sapphire & Steel - reborn

The BBC has been doing a whole bunch of Sapphire & Steel radio plays? Starring David Warner as Steel? They're up to Season 2, and it's been going for at least the last 2 years?

Thanks for the tip, i/s.


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Gametime

So, I'm now a co-editor of a NZ gaming blog - Gametime. This is where I'll be posting much of my RPGeekery from now on (and linking to it from here).

My intro and first post (about a particular style of gaming I'd like to try) are up.


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Monday, October 09, 2006

Mega Roleplaying Weekend - The Haikus

Lots of gaming over the weekend at a house-con up on the coast. It was intense – so many games I wanted to play. Rather than regale you with war stories, I give you haikus.

Don't rest your head. Insomniacs see what's behind the real world. It's scary, in a Grant Morrison 'Doom Patrol' way.

Lonely man, awake.
He must find true love or else.
Trapped in the Mad City.

The Princes Kingdom. A princess and two princes travel to the island of Astoria to solve a brewing conflict between settlers and natives.

Little royal child,
you know your father loves you.
Can you stop the war?


Agon. Ancient Greek warriors of legend pursue epic quests to win the favour of the gods.

Scream and rage, bold heroes!
Fight and race each other now.
Fate, your time draws near.


Primetime Adventures: Displaced. A 90's TV show about a space hero fighting an evil galactic conspiracy with his friends from the 20th century.

These freaks with my ex
are trying to save the Earth?
Wait. They want me, too?

You can read more about them at the local forum I'm now moderating – Random Play.



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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lady in the Water

*** SPOILERS ***Despite its many flaws, I came close to loving M. Night's latest movie. It's a fairytale in modern times; its twists come in the telling of the story, not at the end; the characters are incredibly fun & the film continues to have that style of comedy that I love in his films - humour when the stakes are incredibly high (cf. the son with the gun in Unbreakable, listening for the alien signal in the car in Signs).

Unfortunately, Lady in the Water (LitW) totters on the edge of ridiculousness for almost all of its running time, which of course means it quite often falls and wipes out completely. I appreciated the risks it was taking, but it also handles its middle of Act 2 exposition badly & has a few too many plot points (I think, about 3 too many - Madame Narfs, Takamuks, and the giant eagle).

But what's most interesting to me are the flaws, and how they're actually necessary to the story M. Night is trying to tell:

The animated beginning (which I'd heard was studio imposed) is horribly overlong and expository and emotionally manipulative BUT it serves the purpose of making us believe in who Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) is, which helps Cleveland (Paul Giamatti) believe in her instantly.

But Cleveland's lack of disbelief is the second great flaw. Most reasonable modern people figuring out what Story is would go, "No. Not possible." But the film isn't interested in playing out disbelief beats. And as more and more people rally behind Cleveland and Story, without really questioning why they're doing so, their reactions become more and more implausible.

But, their belief not only fits into the overall mythology of the fairytale - it leads the ideas I enjoyed most in the film: that people who look completely normal can be imbued with mythological power and move among us undetected. Which leads to the final flaw.

Too much stuff. It's cool stuff - people with powers, three or four different creatures, a fairytale being told to Cleveland that's staggered over an hour, precognition, hypnotism, symbolism ... it goes on and on, the script overloading itself even though it's really telling a very simple story - find a special person, then return home through many dangers.

Huh, I just realised it feels like an adaptation of a 600 page Stephen King novel.

Anyway, I find myself in partial agreement with Sean (thanks for the robust post-screening discussion!) LitW feels like a first draft - it's filled with great stuff, good plot points, characters who you really get a sense of their past and future but it needs to be a) leaner, and b) flesh out a few things (the final fight, especially, felt like it was missing a beat).

But the film is not a mess in the same way as Pirates of the Caribbean 2. LitW knows what it wants to do (to bring back wonder), and for all its flaws it got there in the end, for me.
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Limit - Relaxing will be good

Whoa.

The Assembly Draft is done

It took four hours from the start of Act Three to the end. And the rewriting got faster and faster as I went through. That's always the way with this script, I find; the ending is tough to conceptualise, and a breeze to write through. Hopefully that doesn't mean that I'm ignoring some fundamental problem (cf. The Midpoint).

Lots of new stuff added. Lots of exposition shifted and deleted. Did I cry at the end? Not this time, no, but (a) it was such a radical shift that my mind had to be on the process not the emotions, (b) I think I'm going for catharsis more than tears now, (c) this is like the 15th time I've through this end, and (d) I'm not defensive about not crying, ok? Not at all. Now just back off, ok?

Hmm.

The script itself is down to 99 pages, and that's before the fine-tuning draft and the final polish chop out all of my notes to myself.

So, time to relax. I'm giving myself three days off. I think I'll probably tackle a rewrite of the Lucky Jones rules to clear my head ... and then back into it.

Relaxing will be good.
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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Limit - The Way forward

Today, I looked through everything I had to do from the start of Act 3 to the end, solving problems as I read through the script, and by the time I reached the end of my reading I realised I'd found a way through.

And it is good.

Then I started to procrastinate / freak out about finishing, again. So after letting that happen for a few minutes, I bit off the smallest part of the very next problem I had to solve and tackled it. Which worked pretty well.

The point: I can finish this pass on the script now.
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Saturday, September 16, 2006

A little update

The silence has been due to (a) getting together a successful application for a new-ish job, and (b) slowly but successfully cracking the end of The Limit's second act. Oh, and (c) looking after my hands.

Other stuff in the last couple of weeks includes:
A little bit of script reading and feedback for a feature and a short.
Preparing to play in a new SF game, Burning Empires (summary of our set-up, here; fuller details, here)
And finishing off our game of betrayal in Feudal Japan, The Mountain Witch. The actual play thread is here.

I've also seen Silent Hill, which was (in order) interesting, scary, dopey, disappointing and, ultimately, has the best ending of any Silent Hill game I've played so far.

Oh, and Nightwatch, which I stopped watching twice & didn't finish before it was taken back to the shop. Who wants to see yet another movie about people with special powers fighting vampires and trying to stop the end of the world? Not me.

Not unless it's really really good.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Some more writing table thoughts

If someone is really enthused about an idea, but the rest of the table isn't fired up about it, ask the Someone what's at the core of what they're excited about.

If the rest of the table is fired up about about an idea, but someone isn't really enthused about it, ask the Someone what their dislike is really about.

Write those answers down.

In fact, try and write everything down, not matter how small. It's all stuff to get inspired by later, and it sends a signal that everyone's contribution is important. Bring a couple of big pages of paper to write it all down in front of the group.

The point: Promote a shared understanding between the group about the things they're enthusiastic about, in common. Try to create a healthy brainstorming environment where everyone listens to each other. Get everyone talking and contributing - including yourself - and then keep a good ear out for interesting ideas.

And keep in mind that it takes guts, sometimes, to point out an interesting idea. Be brave about doing it yourself, and make sure everyone else respects someone who's doing it.
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Friday, August 25, 2006

Sapphire & Steel

Sapphire and Steel fans, make yourselves known. You will be contacted.

(And I'm talking big fans - you reference it in casual conversation; you speculate about what happened next; you either own episodes or you've seen them multiple times. I'm talking love here, people.)

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Silent Hill is coming

My god, that trailer is great.

Sean and I will be seeing Silent Hill on Tuesday 5 September after work. Details posted closer to the time, but feel free to join us if you know what you're getting yourself in for.


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Thanks, D

What you said last night gave me a real boost.

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Michael Mann, I love you

Miami Vice.
I want to write a film like this. This was absolutely the perfect movie to see at this stage of writing The Limit, and I went into it perfectly primed.

*** IT'S SPOILERS, ALL THE WAY DOWN ***

Here's what I was told: the movie starts in the middle of a police operation, and it keeps going from there - you really have to pay attention to follow what's going on, because Mann doesn't ease you into the world of the story.

1. It's like Brick. You have to listen carefully to everything everyone says & figure things out for yourself.
2. This is a perfect companion piece to The Wire. In fact, I'd say it's almost compulsory to watch a season of The Wire before seeing this film. It'll get you in the mood for the tone Mann is going for.
3. That mood is 'Hollywood' + 'Miami Vice' + 'The Wire'. Schmaltz + Cool + desperate people (on both sides of the badge) having to be as smart as they possibly can, to stay alive.

Here's what I didn't like:

- the script needed one more beat in the first meeting with the Fed to establish Crockett & Tubb's emotional connection with the case. That would have sustained us a lot more easily during their initial moves undercover.
- the performance of their fixer was over the top.
- where'd they get that grenade?
- the dialogue during the second meeting with the Fed was over the top.
- bringing the people they did to the club. It was a stupid move, and they should have known it. Biggest plot flaw of the movie, but it also sets up such an intense ending.
- Crockett & Tubbs needed to get proactive after what happened to Trudi.
- the story didn't return to the initial sting on Neptune.

Here's what I liked:

- Farrell & Foxx.
- starting in media res. I'm really coming to understand the advantages of this, for me as a writer.
- the jeopardy in their first meeting with the drug dealers. Smart people doing smart things because they know they could die at any moment.
- the seduction on the boat. A classic Mann scene.
- the romance. Absolutely unbelievable, but so necessary to (a) get in, (b) create tension in the finale, (c) be sexy.
- how will they respond to Trudi?
- the intensity of the ending & how it builds. Competent people doing deadly things.

The film is filled with music, it has a relentless pace, and its use of video captures the world in such a way that I was seeing the streets outside Reading when I stepped out like I was still in the movie.

Miami Vice is sleazy. Maybe it represents the real Miami; maybe it represents the degeneration of Michael Mann from the stylisation of Manhunter and Heat. All I know is I loved it.
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Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Limit – Anatomy of a Scene

Not so much procrastination in the re-starting of the writing this time. Maybe because I’m already three-quarters of the way through the script – because it’s in media res, I’m immediately interested, whereas starting from the beginning involves slowly relearning why I like the characters and then building up interesting situations for them.

Anyway, I took a crack at the confrontation scene between Tracy and Forster on Tuesday. By about halfway through Draft 1, I stopped. Here’s what I wrote about that:

Fuck, I really want to mine the subtext – but I think I have to write the scene out first, then figure out what it’s about – and how that adds to the About of the film (‘2 dads vying for the love of their son’), and then simplify the scene down. I’m talking about writing and editing, really … and then re-reading the whole thing in sequence, so I can see how it all fits together. So … no need to panic about ‘getting it right’.

All I was doing here was taking the pressure off myself - to remind myself that while I was doing the best I could with the scene, there were going to be plenty more opportunities before the script was finished to judge how it worked.

So I backed up, started a Draft 2, and stalled again.

Time to take a break, think through it again. In the middle of doing dishes, I realised what each character wanted, that it was actually a pretty simple conflict (and that I’d been circling around articulating it that simply for about 2 years). Tracy wants Forster to live and face justice, while Forster wants to die, in a very specific way.

I also realised that I wanted to create a connection between the 2 of them, to show that they had common ground, having been through the same stuff. It’s a technique I admired in Lost, in the Sayid/AnaLucia conversations after Shannon’s death.

So, I worked yesterday, mulled over the scene and came back to it this morning after a bit of internet procrastination.

First things first, what’s at stake? Well, I know that the lead character will live, and I know that she’s going to ‘get’ Forster. What’s at stake is how she’ll do it: will she use the law and reason, or anger and brute force. It help, having already written the brute force scene that I know I can make that plausible.

I wrote down the fundamental beats I want to see in the scene, and ID’d the next point to get to – which is Tracy’s realisation that Forster wants to die. I decided that Tracy had to be the one who realised, because (a) it makes her active, and (b) it shows her doing some detecting.

The dialogue came easily to start with, because the characters’ Wants are so diametrically opposed. I was handwriting everything, and if I couldn’t get an exact phrasing, then I just jotted down the idea behind the dialogue – to work it up later.

I came across a couple of things repeatedly:
1. An impression that some lines were either clich├ęd, or contained a repetitive subtext. (Have I talked before about how (for me) subtext has to be deliberately constructed and hammered into a scene? That was certainly the case here, with Tracy’s concern for her Dad.) Anyway, I decided to leave judging all that to the next readthrough.

2. If the audience knows some information is coming, withhold it. Create tension. It’s very natural to pop that stuff too early.

Toward the end of the scene's second act, Tracy learns some bad news. It's a Bang - I'm fascinated in how she'll react because I have no idea what she'll do. So I start brainstorming 20 ideas. At #8, I get to one I like - that she confronts the situation. I'm able to write out two or three more lines between Tracy and Forster, and then the dialogue dries up. After half an hour, I admit that to myself & back up, brainstorm some more ideas and adopt a subtler, softer approach. The scene flows pretty easily from that point to its end.

I wasn't sure exactly how Tracy would subdue Forster, so when I reached that moment I wrote from the heart. The end result is probably way over-long, but I was really INTO it while writing.

Anyway, I’ve roughed out the scene, I’m ready to move on now. Tracy has a real hero moment; I understand the characters better; their conversation NEEDED to happen; and it’s probably made the remainder of the film about 70% to 240% more interesting than it was before.
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Talking with Sean

During our lunchtime stroll, we talked about another two things to be alert for in creative groups.

The first is ‘dead points’, areas or ideas that one or more people just aren’t interested in. The flipside is when there’s an idea that only one person is interested in, but they’re PASSIONATE about it. I experienced this during our first 48 Hours competition; there were some elements of the story that only a few people were into it, and each time the story focused on those there was a drop in energy and contribution. So, some solutions:

- Talk about why they are or aren’t interested.
- Accept you can’t make someone interested in something.
- Try to massage a story so it contains only elements that everyone’s interested in.
- Be generous in attempting to become interested in an idea. Really try to understand and internalise it.


The second thing to be alert for are conversations that go awkwardly. There’s usually something going on behind that, and although it takes bravery to bring it up for discussion, you’ll usually come to (a) a better understanding, and (b) develop more trust that you can work through creative differences.

Sean, anything else you want to add?


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Personally, I'd read #2

Two incredibly useful threads at the Forge.

One, discusses
how to start conflicts in Primetime Adventures – and it’s suggesting taking a WAAAAY less overt approach than I’ve used in my games. Jenni, I think you’d be particularly interested in this post. Look how it’s saying you don’t explicitly describe how a conflict will play out; you just identify that the conflict is a-brewing, play your cards and take the results into account.

That's very different to how we approached our Buffy game, and it really makes me want to play PTA right now, to try it out.

Two, which discusses the RPG 'Bachannal', and
how to approach roleplaying that has an erotic content.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Limit - It begins again!

Well, having cleared the decks of Lucky Jones design, it's back to The Limit. I left it just at the end of Act 2, about to start a big rewrite of an action scene. So, let us see if I have my usual day of procrastination. (To try and prevent it, I started the morning with a big, uphill walk, to try and get the endorphins flowing. I'll have to see how that works).

... and Matt, yes, there was a Mystery Post, and yes, I took it down after half an hour. There are good reasons for that, and it’ll be reposted soon, probably in another location.


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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Tips for working at the Writing Table

Over the last year or so, I've been involved in semi-regular get-togethers to brainstorm ideas for TV shows. Here's a few things I've learned from that, about working as part of a creative team:

Like the people you're working with.

Listen. Plotting is like jazz; you have to listen to everyone's contribution. Make sure you (and hopefully everyone else at the table) is committed to the principle that it's not about getting your ideas across, but making everyone else's shine.

Accept that it doesn't have to go your way; other ways are just as good. The end result won't be like you thought, and that's fine. However, you do need to buy in to what the idea's become.

Assume everyone's adult and friendly - you can raise objections and alternatives in a mature and reasonable way.

Proceed carefully when disagreeing with people. If you think an idea is lame, wrong or stupid, DON'T SAY THAT. Ask what's behind their suggestion. Seek to understand and keep trying, until you either buy in to it or get what their goal is. Asking them to explain is better than saying ' No '.

Play with the idea and the characters. Have fun.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Pointing out problems at the writing table

This is an addition to the writing table post, below. It's inspired by a conversation with Sean, yesterday, where we were talking about how you need to create a team where everybody feels like they can contribute (in order to bring out the best in them). It's also about getting everybody on the same page, and trying to improve a show by solving the problems that will have the most benefit on other areas of the show.

It's pretty simple:

Tell everyone we're going to list out all the problems we have with the show.
Tell them we're not going to try and solve them yet. We're not even going to say WHY they're a problem. We're just going to list them and move on.
Once everyone understands that we're going to try and keep the big picture in mind and not get bogged down (and everyone feels free to point out if the conversation starts getting down into specific details and justifications) ...
Get everyone to list out all the problems they have, on a whiteboard.
Get everyone name their top prob, or top 3.
Look for patterns, priorities. See if there are problems that everyone has in common.
Choose the problems that, if you solve them, they’ll have the most flow-on effect
Brainstorm solutions. Brainstorm a lot of them.


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Friday, August 11, 2006

Joining a Writing Table - some tips

As I've found, it's not easy to be the new person at the writing table. I've mentioned before how I'd like to be part of a table that listens to each other and tries to bring out the best. Here are some tips on how to do that:

- Just ask questions – try to get a feel for what’s important, the reasons why something was done, and where the reasoning is weak.

- Don’t prepare a 40 page document filled with all the problems I've identified and how I'd solve them. This sort of stuff has to come out in conversation.


- Do bring a page of questions, organised in order of importance.

- If I do have to ID problems, keep the list very very short. Either, (a) Point out why I find them problematic, and suggest a couple of solutions, or (b) do a deep analysis to find out what I think the basic problem is – and then see if others at the table agree with me.

- Don't get anxious about joining an established team. It takes quite a while to fit in with them and get a sense of their style (like a month to six month quite a while)

- Try to keep the Big Picture in mind.

- Be co-operative.

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My new writing process - a rough outline

Hmm, here's the stripped down, mechanical version of the writing process I want to try.

Intro characters. Present them with a Kicker, a situation that cannot be ignored
Brainstorm 20 (B20) ideas for each character’s reaction.
Choose the most interesting.
Write down on a separate page for each character, what I’ve discovered about them in making that choice.
Create the new situation based on that choice.
Write a synopsis of it on a Word doc.


Characters have to react to the new situation. Intro any new characters that that situation demands. Repeat the B20, writing process.
Soon I’ll have ‘character sheets’ filled with traits that allow me to make decisions that are consistent with their characterisation.

If I come up with awesome new ideas, write them down on a page that says Act 1,2,3. But keep going with my current story – to see what I learn. Why? Well, the idea is that I won’t know if these new ideas are the 'right' ones – all I’ll know is that they’re better – but I could come up with more if I keep going. So rather than keep getting distracted by - let's face it - an inexhaustible supply of new possibilities, I'll work through the entire story and then be able to make a decision based on overviewing the whole thing.

Read aloud. Record.
Take notes.

Go back to the start and start with the most interesting situation I've now devised. Rebuild.
Repeat till I’m confident.

Pitch.


This whole process is more character based, with a structure that (I assume) will naturally get imposed on it over time. The question of what it's 'about' also needs to be answered - but I have another post on that coming up, based on my recent consulting work on this TV show.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Some Lucky Jones playtesting

So, we played my family sit-com game, The Lucky Joneses on Tuesday night. The nuts-and-bolts write-up is at the Forge.


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Saturday, July 29, 2006

How to design a 600 page roleplaying game

Burning Empires is high on the list of games I want to play in the next couple of years. Thor, who was involved in its production, has started a series of blogposts backgrounding how the game was created.

First post is the background - inspiration, legal processes, ethical challenges, and what the game is 'about':

"The first thing we settled upon was that the underlying metaphor for the game would be disease. The Vaylen were a parasitic infestation infecting the bloated, dying body of humanity. Once we had that concept down [we could] explore the ways in which we could extend that metaphor throughout the game ..."
Second post reveals some stuff I hadn't really taken onboard about the Burning Wheel system:

"Luke and I began focusing on Vaylen culture, which we needed to understand before we could create any rules for them. Burning Wheel’s lifepath system, which we had decided to keep for Burning Empires, requires that you thoroughly understand the structure of a society in order to create lifepaths for it."

The process of developing the Vaylen (parasitic worms) and Kerrn (geneered warriors) is pretty fascinating stuff - and obviously these few paragraphs of description boil down hours and hours of intense game-designy conversation. But, parasitic worms as fully playable characters = Wow.

This post also talks about beginning to come up with implementations of the rules - how Firefights have to be 'about' something; how Psychology (a mind control ability) needed to be balanced so that it wouldn't create player vs. player dysfunction.

And there's this great insight into Luke Crane's design process:

The very first step Luke takes when designing a project (before logos, layout, etc.) is to select fonts.

“Fonts are the foundation for the look of a book." [says Luke]. They’ve got to knit together all the other elements. So for BE, I knew I wanted a different look than BW. It had to have a classic look to it, like BW, but also had to be modern.”

Luke went through his font database of several thousand fonts and made a short list of the fonts that suited his needs.

Third (and last, so far) post has a great comment from Iskander that skim-illustrates how to use theory to improve a game for everybody.

It also talks about playtesting the big rules at a macro-level, so you can run through entire campaigns (or, in this game's case, Worlds) quickly, and shows the gruelling yet valuable work of playtesting. There's some great stuff about how the game is designed to force the creation of a story

There are insights into editing, artwork, and project management (in the form of co-ordinating playtesting when rules are being revised, and every group could have a slightly different draft).

And there's this quote, which I think is key:

"One thing that Luke and I and others at the Forge have seen very clearly is that role playing texts in general are pretty poor at teaching players how to use them. Invariably, creators do things when running their games that are essential to making the games function as they should, and yet some of the most important of those things never make it into the text. We do things that are so ingrained that we take it completely for granted that other players, who learned to play in other environments, do them too. Once you release a game, if you interact with your fans, you quickly start to see patterns in the questions they ask. Pretty soon, the conclusion is inescapable: you’re doing something at your table that is not actually in the text. Burning Wheel is no different than other games in that regard.

Luke and I pledged that we would do our best to hard code the way we played into Burning Empires by critically evaluating every nuance of how we played our games, and making sure it made its way into the text.


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The Scott Pilgrim movie

Well, according to AICN, Edgar Wright is going to direct the/a Scott Pilgrim movie. This makes me happy because he'll be really frickin' great/ideal at it. This makes me sad because I want to do one/them/it. Hopefully it'll turn into a Harry Potter franchise and I'll get my shot.
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Friday, July 28, 2006

A fantasy epic in 3 hours (or How I took the Gloves off)

This happened back in January, on the first day of Kapcon, I think. It’s one of my favourite role-playing experiences, for reasons I’ll surely discover as I write this out.

Four players – Ivan, I’d never met before. Margee was a friend from just hanging out with people we both knew. Jon and Nasia I’d only played with for the first time earlier that day. I introduced them to Universalis, a game where you figure out what it’s about as you play it – each person paying Coins to create elements of the world, introducing new characters and create conflict.

Here’s the key to what happened next: if you don’t like what someone else has introduced, you can Challenge it. At first you just talk it out, try and negotiate a solution. If that doesn’t work, you can start a bidding war & other players can support or oppose what’s being challenged as well.

So, the game starts with the Tenet phase, where you go around the group, stating one fact each about what you want the game to be about. I went first and suggested something I like to throw in, just to sound out where everybody’s at, “This game’s set in the Real World.”

Immediate challenge from Ivan. “Screw that,” he says, “I don’t come to cons to play real world stuff.” He took the turn and introduced Black Wolf, a wizard. Basically, he was introducing the world of Ralph Bakshi’s movie, ‘Wizards’. And I was uncomfortable with that – I didn’t want the game to slavishly recreate the plot of an existing fiction.

Straight up, I told him what I was feeling, and said that I was going to mess with it. So that’s the first thing – I’ve never been that overt before, and certainly never taken such an oppositional role.

“That’s fine,” said Ivan. “That’s what the game’s for.” So he got it.

First thing I did was trash a major component – the city of Montegaria – which shocked the hell out of me, and I wonder if it shocked the other players.

Cool stuff that came out as the game went on:
- Everyone was comfortable with challenges.
- We created a full on fantasy epic in 3 hours. And it was gripping – I went to the toilet at one stage (and ‘cos of the way Uni works, the game kept going without me), and can remember actually running back to the game because I wanted to know what I missed
- The most important components turned out to be a Dead Baby and a Prophecy. Players were wresting control of the Prophecy, trying to get the right to write down what it said.

There was a real creative tension – and each player contributed a different thing. There was the competitiveness between Ivan and me. Margee kept making these amazing, subtle connections between the different characters; Nasia focused on relationships and introducing elements that were epic in scale & usually concerned with religion and the Prophecy.

And Jon … Jon kept blowing my mind, because he’d shift the timeline around so much. First scene – city laid to waste, epic confrontation between the villain and sort-of-hero wizards, a princess fleeing for her life. Jon gets the second scene, and says, “… Three months earlier.” Once we cut back to the ruined city and kicked off a three-way chase across the planet, the real heroes take refuge in Crusk, a safe haven surrounded by force fields that the wizards can’t enter. “… 20 years later,” says Jon.

That’s about it. There was a final conflict, which I wanted to kick off straight away but everyone else felt that that would be too soon – so we manoeuvred components around, introduced traits, set up an eclipse. Not much actually changed, but everybody felt comfortable enough after about 20 minutes to get things started.

After that resolved, we were approaching the end of the session and everybody was getting a bit drained. Epilogues were being narrated for other characters, but we couldn’t figure out what to do with the two wizards who’d kicked the whole game off. “They die,” said Margee, which everyone was satisfied with.

Full disclosure: there was a little bit just at the end of the game I wasn’t happy with. Black Wolf, the wizard-villain, was definitely Ivan’s component, and used all the Coins I’d won in the final conflict to buy-off every one of its traits, effectively killing it. Of course, we were never going to play this game again, but it still felt a little bitter, or like a pissing contest. Maybe I wasn’t used to that level of competition.

Anyway, to mollify myself, I bought a new trait for Black Wolf, that he was lauded as a saint in the future of this fantasy world – which actually seemed consistent with all the crap he’d pulled and carnage he’d committed. It actually had helped bring about a better world.

That’s the key to why I enjoyed this so much: full-on competition without acrimony gave Universalis a *zing* I’d never experienced before, and the whole game was incredibly satisfying as a result. Not just its usual unpredictable self, but tense - and I felt utterly involved in wanting to get an outcome I’d be happy with.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Scanner Darkly (and a thought about scene structure)


**MILD SPOILERS**

Linklater's film has all the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

We didn't get totally inside Bob Arctor's headspace. Only occasionally did I feel what his personality breakdown (due to the drugs and having to surveil himself) must be like - and these peaks of paranoia and disorientation weren't frequent enough to satisfy me (because I pretty much feel they're the point of the story).

However, it has a scene about 20 minutes before the end which is simply incredibly - it totally justifies the use of the (seemingly gimmicky) scramble suits as Keanu's interview with his boss gradually becomes a experience of drawn-out and mounting horror. That was where the film peaked, and then introduced a plot point (that I think is new to Linklater's script) which I believe is a necessary step towards someone someday finally cracking how to tell a kick-arse version of this story.

The film's visually brilliant, and I cried at PKD's dedication to his friends, lost to drugs in the '70s. Go read Jenni's review for another POV.

A lot of the time, I was watching the film going "Where's the conflict in this scene?" And I realise that my recent experiences with Primetime Adventures have been subtly educating me in this screen-writing tool. Creating conflicts and having to decide which ones are meaningful up to 15 times a game is a really effective way of building up your chops.
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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Girlmore Girls news

This script review of the first post-Sherman-Pallindino episode of Gilmore Girls makes me cautiously optimistic. Beware, though - massive spoilers.

And, although I missed 20 minutes in the middle, this Sunday's ep seemed the funniest and sharpest the show has been in a while: Michel's tantie at Rory about messing with his system; Mrs Kim helping write a hit rock song (!); Rory and Lorelai both avoiding the problems in their life. Nice, insightful stuff.

But when Luke directly asked Lor THREE times if she had a problem with the bag, and she said "No", I decided she deserves everything she going to get. This woman is going to have to grow if she's going to win back my sympathy.
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

A rough as guts summary of Phoenix Episode 9

This is very much a reference post for the people who played Phoenix on Saturday. I tried to remember the order of scenes, but by about halfway through my memory failed so I separated them out into each character's strand and put down as much as I can remember. Hopefully it'll serve as a memory jog if we write the stuff up.

So, don't expect this to make much sense if you keep reading. It's all pretty rough, and doesn't get to the dramatic juice that powered each scene.

Episode 9 (Season Finale)

Boyd talking to Carl (via radio) outside compound.

Saul talks to Carl on roof - “You'll choose one of us to die.”

Terri decides to take Tom with her into the compound – which puts her in danger of being discovered.

Molly 'tortures' Lacey.

Maybe Saul talks to Alistair came here, and realised he's got to change the Rules. ??

Terri, almost discovered by guards – intimate moment with Tom.

We might have cut to the scene where Lacey's drinking hot chocolate in the kitchen & Saul comes in to speak with her.

Then the scene with the guard moving through the compound, seeing the grill open, Molly's missing, sounding the alarm.

(maybe)
Terri tries to get the medical files.
Saul lets Boyd out of the storage locker.
Terri gets the med-assist to help her / activate Stage 6

Scene outside the compound, the Tactical Team arguing about whether to go in – hearing a gunshot from inside.

** I'VE LISTED THINGS OUT BY CHARACTER, FROM HERE

Molly talks to the kids
Molly convinces the kids to step in the room.

The compound is breached – this was colour that affected subsequent narration.

Saul lets Boyd out of the storage locker.
Saul and Boyd talk in the corridor.
Boyd talks to Carl.
Boyd rescues Molly.
Boyd at the end.

Terri tries to get the medical files.
Terri gets the med-assist to help her / activate Stage 6
Tom regains consciousness – he's losing himself – he and Terri have a last conversation.
Tom asks Saul to take him to Carl.

Carl makes the decision about who will die.

Epilogue

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Superman Returns

My favourite characters, from most to least …

Lois Lane’s boyfriend
Perry White
Lois Lane
Lois’ son
Lex Luthor’s girlfriend
Lex Luthor
Jimmy Olsen
Superman
Clark Kent

How could a script get it so wrong? Starting with 20 minutes of stuff that doesn’t advance the story at all (who care if Superman feels like an alien? Who cares how Lex gets his money? These things don’t have any pay-off in the film), and then focusing on – basically – Lois’ story, because she’s the one in interesting dramatic situations and having to make interesting choices.

Let me say this plainly: I have no problem with Superman Returns grounding itself heavily in the drama – Unbreakable is one of my favourite films – but I have a massive problem when the drama Singer chooses to focus on pushes all the attention away from Superman.

Either make a movie about Superman or make a movie where Superman does cool shit every 3 minutes against impossible odds and super-powerful villains. Either way, I’d be more entertained … which is what this movie forgot to do.
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What's it all about?

What's your story about? I need to know this so that when I'm reading the script I can tell whether each scene is adding to the story that I want to see unfold.

'What's your story about?' is not what it's about at a premise level - where, for example The Limit is about Vigilantism vs. The Law, which is more effective & how using each method changes you.

It's what your story is about at an emotional level, about what's grabbing the audience and making them want to watch more. The Limit, in this case, is about 2 dads vying for the love of their son.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Getting More Things Done

I may write about this in more depth later, but I’ve made a pretty radical adjustment to how I’m using the Getting Things Done (GTD) system to plan out my weekly work. The goal was to simplify my life, so that I’m focusing only on the really important stuff.

I’ve created a one page document covered with post-its that represented goals in my life – that’s divided into ‘Personal’ and ‘Creative’. At the bottom are the two MAIN PROJECTS that I’m working on over the next fortnight (example - 'Creating that 1-page document' & 'All my script editing jobs'). Just above that is a second tier of goals – where each category has two more POSSIBLE GOALS in it. These are what I’ll do, either once I finish what I’m currently focused on or things I can swap to if I get bored or blocked with my Main Projects.

Above that are bigger things like all the areas of my life I have to keep track of (you know, like Flatmate, Writer, Employee, and stuff), and the bigger goals that stretch out from 3 years to the rest of my life.

It may sound confusing, but the result is that I’ve now got a Big Picture of my life that I can refresh and review very easily, that I can see entirely on one page, and that means I focus on the important stuff rather than the shit, kipple and cruft that’s been building up around the edges of my calendar over the last six months.
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Phoenix

The next session is on Saturday. We’ll be playing the finale of Season 1, and setting up the premiere of Season 2. More notes (including episode summaries) here.
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Me creative stuff at the moment …

I’ve been script editing, rather than writing. It’s a refreshing change, and the process seems to come naturally, now that I’ve done it about 70 times. I’ve had the privilege of reading:

- an historical drama / true crime story set in NZ

- A western drama/adventure that I’ve recommended become a noir, set in an undefined time in both The West & The East of America.

I’ve also been consulting on a small town drama-comedy TV series set in NZ (which means all my close watching of the Gilmore Girls is finally paying off). Contributing to this project has made me aware that I’ve taken something from Universalis – I’m becoming extremely focused on consistent characterisation and making the plot flow out of the ramifications of that.
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I've been Watching

... lots of TV ...

Carnivale (Seasons 1 & 2) – it takes a few eps to get into, but it’s an excellent drama that introduces more and more magic realism and then reveals that it was a full-blown horror all along. Probably cancelled too soon, but I’d love to read a novel that continued the story.

Clone High – pretty damn fun. A few bum eps.

The Prisoner – about half the episodes don’t work for me, but the other half are genius. The finale of this series changed my understanding of how societies work.

Deadwood (Season 1) – love the language, love the acting. I wish it had been given the budget of Rome, in order to really recreate the craziness of frontier South Dakota.

Battlestar Galactica (Season 2) – the first 6 eps are pretty much entertaining soap opera that re-establishes the status quo. Then the season starts focusing on external threats; whereas these were problems of immediate survival in Season 1 (pursuit, finding water, finding fuel), now they’ve transformed into social survival (the black market, free press, abortion, and elections). And towards the end of Season 2, the showrunners perform an act of absolute genius and start showing what life is like in Cylon society. This is becoming an exciting show.

Lost (Season 2) - many more ep reviews are coming, but I can say that as a season it works great - held back by a few too many episodes that focus on character (Kate and her frickin' horse, Charlie's dreams) rather than having a 3-5 ep arc (such as Meeting the Tailies or Dealing with Henry Gale or ... Michael) to hold them together.

Update:For a nearly parallel opinion on Lost, check out this article by DocArzt over at thetailsection.com, and then have a wander around lostpedia.com.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Game playing fool

I'm back from house-sitting at Gino's - where I clocked 4 video games. It's not that I had a lot of free time, it's that I prioritised my time badly.

Katamari Damarcy - goofy goddamn fun.
We love Katamari - improved level design from the original, but much worse writing and characterisation and pretty much everything else. It made the game a real pain to play.
Ico - a good puzzle solving game in the mould of Tomb Raider but it doesn't fulfill its early promise. I may go into that later.
Fahrenheit - an okay mystery-actioner game that doesn't fulfill its early promise. I may go into that later.
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Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Limit - realising why I stopped

Last weekend, I hit the big rewrite at the end of Act 2 and the wall of "What the hell do I do next?" I thought I'd take some time out - and in the meantime, brainstorm some possible solutions, try to understand the basic problem, and work on some stuff that I've needed to catch up on (including the next draft of The Lucky Joneses RPG).

However, over the last three days, this is what's happened:

1. A lunch-time conversation with Sean where I realised that the scene I was blocked on has to reflect the father-child dynamic that the whole movie's about;

2. A realisation that I'm trying to make this perfect, which leads to procrastination. I should make rough, necessary changes, and complete this draft; and

3. Another realisation, that I've lost track of the big picture - and finishing this script is more important than working on the game.

4. ... Maybe there's some fear of finishing in there, too.

So, I'll be trying to go back into it tonight & definitely be working on it for the remainder of the week.

Ode to Singstar

Much Singstar fun last night. Discussion with Giffy has convinced me that it's a great game. It has a sliding difficulty level - which means that you can make the game less forgiving of bum notes & it encourages practice and study in order to get really good - but it's also completely accessible to novice singers.

Plus the Party Games option is incredible fun. Making it a competive team event and then having everyone gather together for an 8-person singing finale is a celebratory act of smart game design.

I'm looking forward to house-sitting at Gino's. Playing Singstar, Eyetoy games and Dance-Dance Revolution - basically anything that doesn't require me to hold a tiny controller in my hands but instead use my whole body. To me, that feels like the next step in game design - making the room you're playing the game in part of the game. And it's why I'm so exciting by Nintendo's new console.

Also, I got a rating of Singstar on Dido's White Flag, emo'd on The Offspring's Self-Esteem and got to vamp on Alicia Keys' Fallin'. So I'm happy.

RPGPlaytesting and Publishing wisdom from the pros

Just found a couple of useful threads on playtesting. One's at the Forge, the other's at StoryGames. If I have time, I'll post some summary in the comments

Also Jared's rant and Tony's analysis about self-publishing are complete opposed, but still educational. Jared suggests focusing on creating first and publishing second (if at all). Basically, distribute what you create for free - with, I think, the result that work through vastly more interesting ideas rather than fixate on the One Great Game you must be publishing. Tony, instead, has started a discussion of the nuts and bolts of publishing that OGG.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Scott Pilgrim #3 is out!

Just read it on Ain't it Cool -

SCOTT PILGRIM & THE INEVITABLE SADNESS

... has been published. Sweet!

From the review: "If I called SCOTT PILGRIM the finest example of comics, the most fun a reader can have with graphic novels, then that would be an understatement. The third volume manages to top the insanity of the previous volumes ..." And then there's spoilers. And people who've read this series know that knowing nothing is the knowledge you want to know when you start reading it.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Online ettiquette

Does linking to this cross the line?
What about googling your date?
And here's some advice for the LiveJournalistas out there.

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Relationship Failure (No. 463)

INT. THE OLD FLAT -- NIGHT

I'm talking to my soon-to-be Former Flatmate (STBFF).

Me: So I looked at a flat today, and I met this woman I was interested in. Now, she's the flatmate who's moving out, and we only talked for a couple of minutes, but I still have the phone number, so I wanted your opinion on whether it'd be weird if I -

STBFF: No. Because that'd be stalking.

Me: ... Yes. Yes, of course you're right.

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Fury and Betrayal

ulatFriday night. Played Fury of Dracula (FOD) again, and my third game of Betrayal at the House on the Hill (BATHOTH).

FOD holds up as a great example of co-operative strategy and finely balanced adversaries. Once again, Gino played Dracula. Once again, the hunter-players were on his trail from the beginning, and three-quarters of the way through we'd cornered the fiend in Eastern Europe ... but this time, Gino played a few new cards that allowed him to jump over our net and run for his un-life.

Again, it was exciting, ended with a confrontation with Dracula over the course of dusk to twilight, across the English channel &, this time, with victory for the Hunters.

As for BATHOTH. Well, see the comments thread in the link above for more. BATHOTH is beautifully designed, it's interesting and tense as you explore the house, generating mood reasonably effortlessly. Then the Haunt starts - one of the players becomes a Traitor and plays the forces of the House trying to kill all the other (non-traitor) characters. There are 50 different Haunts in the game (aliens, zombies, angry servants, evil plants, and more and more) so there's a lot of variability in every game.

But that's what I think it at the heart of the controversy. Because of the variety of Haunts, there's no consistency to the gameplay BETWEEN games. Some Haunts seem tougher than others, attributes are randomly penalised, and some Haunts require you to explore more of the House than you have. This lack of consistency means some Haunts'll be easy to defeat; others, impossible. Some Haunts will be tense and fun; others, boring.

Whereas FOD has delivered a consistent experience each time I've played it, BATHOTH has been highly variable, more reliant on luck than player skill, and up and down in terms of fun. I've heard (and can believe) that there are great Haunts that are really fun to play through, but my point is that that should be the case every time you play, not just every fourth time it happens (or however often it does).

The Limit - Solving the Midpoint

Today's my 'finish this re-draft' deadline ... & I'm approaching the end of Act 2. REASON: MWA offered me some more work which has had to be done over this week and last, so I've deferred script progress in order to earn some dentist money.

The writing's been going smoothly but right now I think I'm facing a psychological block - I need to make a change that has big ramifications for the rest of the film. It's a simple change, but I think its implications are stopping me from going ahead with making it. Instead I'm analysing. And working on this much-delayed post.

The work I'm doing for MWA is confidential, but I can say - Without disclosing anything secret - that a lot of very successful people in this country perceive a difference between women and men in the way they solve problems. Apparently, (1) men come up with solutions and implement one quickly whereas (2) Women analyse the whole situation, try and get down to the core of the problem and then generate a solution.

Now I'm not sure whether those patterns are gendered that strongly, but I've reached a point on The Limit that reminds that I've certainly been guilty of #1 a lot.

The Midpoint of the script consists of an argument plus a new threat for one of the lead characters. Now, the threat's always worked fine but the argument has always seemed to slow things down. I've tried a lot of fixes on it over the last five drafts and nothing's worked.

So what did I realise during this edit? That none of these quick fixes had addressed the main problem. That the midpoints for the two leads were separated by about 10 pages ... and that that distance was killing momentum the script's momentum.

So, lessons to apply in future:
1) Coming up with a quick fix is fine, if I'm utterly convinced by it.
2) If I'm not convinced, then analyse the problem thoroughly. I've been finding that Deviation Analysis works well as a tool.
3) Analyse anything that looks like a massive drop in engagement when I draft my Whammo Chart.
4) If, after coming up with a quick fix, a problem still remains in the next draft, analyse it.

Now, to probably procrastinate further!

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