Monday, January 30, 2006
I enjoyed Brainlord last Wednesday. We started developing a TV series set in (if I have my history right) pre-colonial NZ. Its working title is Hellhole – and it’s all about the demythologising.
More stuff is happening, but I’ve got to get back to the writing now. However, I will be looking for a flat when I get back from Australia in mid-Feb … so, it’s going to be a busy next couple of months.
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Them's that played the game with me, feel free to comment here or there about the night.
In other news, I've been cruising on a post-Kapcon buzz for about 4 days, checking out lots of blogs and posting muchly. That has to stop now. I've got to focus on this next draft of The Limit (for at least the next week).
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
The thread is here. Alternatively, just comment here.
1) Play a hard core, grim in tone series of missions.
2) Our Tuesday night group should play three or four or five game-nights in a row of our ongoing Inspectres Wellington game. Let’s see what this puppy can do.
Then it was time to wrap up and hang out with Gino while we looked at all the amazing costumes. I thought Debz’ dress was awesome, while the Invisible Man seemed like the biggest crowd pleaser. I also regreat not seeing Nick Pitt in his Puck-horns.
I thought might get a good night sleep by not going to the LARP, and but instead Helen and Sean came round and we had a great time hanging out, drinking wine. I decided to get up early and do my prep – but it all went horribly wrong & I ended up having to sprint to the convention in order to make it to the morning presentations.
The second session of Lucky Jones turned into American Pie-meets-24. We had sleazy sex comedy coupled with an increasingly serious work situation that eventually involved the FBI and terrorists. We only got through one episode that session - and it was during those 3 hours that I finally started to get some understanding of what was and wasn't working with my game.
Things that surprised me:
- Lucky Jones is so much about the ephemeral moments of comedy. The system seems to encourage players to make jokes, introduce zany characters or one-liners & then to move on.
- There is an intuitive continuity to episodes - even while timelines were being stretched hard, they never broke. For instance, one player had a plot set over one night while another player's plot spanned a couple of weeks. Through judicious flashbacks and weavings, everything seemed to make sense. In fact, when things got quite tricky to connect, the whole table got together and collaborated to figure out a way to make it work.
- There was a fantastic moment when someone broke the PG-rating we were (implicitly) creating, another person yelled "Cut!", there was a little bit of discussion as if we were on the set of the sitcom while it was being shot and then I yelled "Take 2 " and we were back in the game.
- Even though the rules were a bit broken, I'm now convinced there's a really fun game in here.
There's an AP thread about it at the Forge.
In terms of rewrites, I found the second session extremely valuable. During that first game, I was just trying to wrap my head around presenting the rules and then watching it play. In the second session I was able to step back & ask myself questions about what was working or not. In fact, about halfway through that session, gameplay kind of disintegrated for a while as we actually analysed the process & pacing that Lucky Jones was creating.
The game takes too long to play. Ideally, I'd like there to be two episodes in a session with the first episode coming in somewhere between 45 to 90 minutes. Right now it's more like two to three hours. Restructuring the way you swap between tracks should go a long way to fixing that.
However, I have also discovered that there could be a long-term reward cycle (in the form of Penalties) operating in the game. Penalties are earned by failing to get what you want by the end of an episode. If I adjust how Penalties are used, so that you can either use it on yourself (giving yourself a slight disadvantage) or pass it to another person (giving yourself a slight advantage), then I think this will create a Fruitful Void.
That's the first time I've ever been able to sense what a Fruitful Void would feel like, so I'm quite excited! Basically, I think that being able to trade Penalties between players will force them to ask the implicit question "What sort of family are we?" Are they a group of individuals who'll crap on the people around them for some medium-term gain or will they suck it in and make sacrifices for each other?
I like that.
… Next Post: Universalis, a conversation with Morgue and Mike, prizegiving.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Over two days, I ran 12 hours worth of games (and played for another 3) and in every single one of them, there were hour-long stretches where I was just rapt at the stories emerging – unpredictable, intense. My goal for this year was to get the most player input I could in my sessions & I totally achieved it. Mostly that input came as a result of the games I selected, but also it was because I focused over and over again on being a facilitator (except in Universalis).
Big lesson from this bout of gaming is ‘never be afraid to increase the adversity’. My game, Lucky Jones, is entirely designed around that principle – but seeing it play out in Inspectres and – especially – in Universalis … and OMG, that Universalis game should live in freaking legend.
Adversity forces people to be creative, it makes them stand up for what they really want, to say what they value and what’s worth fighting for … and adversity makes you feel like you’ve earned survival or success or – in the case of one AWESOME Lucky Jones subplot – the respect of your family.
I’m not talking about being a jerk; introducing adversity is not about rough-riding over the other players. I’m talking about everyone being totally upfront, saying this is “what I want to do to your character and why” and asking whether you’re up for it.
Plus, adversity creates a situation. Stories need conflict; focusing on the right conflict at the right time creates a throughline for your story. See this colourful diagram for a better explanation. Plus, all the systems I ran can totally handle adversity: in Lucky Jones, you can’t die you can only fail (plus in the next draft, those failures will give you cool goodies), InSpectres allows you to narrate your way out of anything & Universalis thrives on conflict – as one player (I think it was Jonathan) said, because you don’t have a character of your own, you feel fine about screwing yourself over.
And, yeah, I had some adversity of my own at Kapcon.
I couldn’t believe how nervous I was on Saturday. Totally nervous. First con game ever, for people I mostly don’t know & it’s my own untested re-edited game design as well. But Lucky Jones went done well. I pulled in Giffy as an extra player at the last minute & so got to sit outside the game a little bit and observe (while still taking my turn as the Cast Member).
Oh, basic explanation. Each game of Lucky Jones = an episode of a sitcom. In any given scene, one player’s the star of the show while everyone else hurts and helps them.
I describe that first game as Family Guy meets American Beauty. What I loved about the game was a) Giffy’s adorable portrayal of River Jones, Andrew’s succession of sly patriarchal bastards (and doomed attempts to escape his family), Uncle Ivan, the ultimate fate of the remote controlled car … just a succession of inspired moments and characters whose sole goal was to add to the lunacy. I think the system really inspires people to contribute that sort of ephemeral comedy & b) …
Well, we played 2 episodes and the amount of reincorporation and character development was just incredible. Favourite characters from the previous ep reappearing, Wants being developed & (in Giffy’s case) Wants staying the same – which lead to the development of the insane trash-talking forbidden tree in the backyard.
Inspectres, Lucky Jones 2, that session of Universalis & a sweet sweet game of Badass Space Marines followed. You can find Mike’s write-up of the BSM game here.
But I have to say: so impressed by the quality of the players who sat down at the table with me & their willingness to throw themselves into the game. In all 4 sessions – like I said at the top – I was riveted. I was running games where I could actually leave the room (for water, toilet breaks, etc) and the story would continue … and not only was I always reluctant to leave cos’ I wanted to see what’d happen next, but I’d then rush back in and breathlessly ask what I’d missed.
That’s some serious story.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Just taken my first look at this draft of The Limit. My overall impression is that the script's a great read now. Really fast. Pacing seems about right. And I was continually interested. I had a couple of plot issues, but that’s about it. I've got a meeting about it with AB tomorrow, where I'll bring up a few specifics:
I don’t think the first 15 pages quite set up the story or the characters – it needs a little room to breathe after the trial & a little more focus on the Peter/Taine relationship.
First half is pretty effective, with some nicely shocking moments. Second half of Act 2 seems a little samey. Most of the subtler emotional changes need to be communicated more clearly. But I was getting a little punchy from reading at that point.
(It's odd. That second half used to be the unequivocal highlight of the script; now it seems weaker than the new material. I hope that's a good sign.)
I have a weird feeling, thinking about the script now. A feeling like, for the first time with the Limit, I'm not that sure what edits I'd like to make to it. I've had that feeling before - with other scripts - and it's usually indicated that further tinkering tips the story over the edge and starts to break it.
It's also weird to me that to me the film will be quite slow and deliberate with lots of breathing space, whereas the script tends to read like two deformed hillbilly truants attacking you relentlessly with sledgehammers. That might turn out to be a problem, too.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
I'd been ignoring a whole bunch of important stuff.
Also, My Name is Earl starts tonight. Who could resist a lead character called Earl Hickey?
The link is here.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Invincible - neat plainly told superhero fun. I love Kirkman's zombie epic "The Walking Dead" (volumes 1 & 2 available in the library) and I'll be checking out the other three Invincible graphic novels real soon.
Animal Man - It's a Grant Morrison comic that goes meta. It also examines some of the same themes as The Filth, but in a more simplistic and ultimately more moving way.
The Neverhood - it's a claymation puzzle game. Loved it.
Hapland 2 - still working on it. You can play it for free, here.
Tiger Woods Golf 2003 - would you believe me if I told you that a golfing simulator was riveting? Well it is. And the depths of its challenging gameplay are hidden at first glance. It appears to simply be a 'whack the ball around the course' game. But playing in Career Mode, where you take a golfer from his first $10 amateur match all the way up to the PGA tour gives you a lot of variety in the types of matches you play, taking on challenges from other golfers & having to plot the best way around course before you play a match there. It's so detailed it's almost like work, but still - best game I played on holiday.
My major insight from it is that descriptions in novels really work when they are taken from the POV of a character. Omniscient narration always reads a little flat to me. Narration from the point of view of a setting (to get across the rich atmosphere of a fantasy world, for instance) can be engrossing or annoying depending on the writer. But narration like this:
"Holding her breath, she entered the kitchen, rinsed out a few glasses - no sense letting the repairman think she kept a dirty house - and wiped off the counter. In the living room she fastened back the curtains, wondering if it was safe to leave the old TV set unguarded and decided that no one would want it anyway."
The whole novel is constantly providing character through implication. Each character's narration has certain motifs that are repeated through the novel - Carol (above) is neurotic,
a romantic dreamer and easily scared. Jeremy Friers, the extremely unlikeable hero is repulsed by nature, a lazy intellectual & sexually frustrated.
In fact implication is a big thing for Klein. The narration from above continues:
"She notice several strands of black hair on the rug near the foot of the couch. There's always something of Rochelle's here, she thought as she picked them up between two fingers and released them out the window. They drifted downward on the summer breeze, floating like a spiderweb."
That's paying off a nasty moment earlier in the book. And The Ceremonies is filled with stuff like that. Violence is not seen - it's alluded to and its effects are only glimpsed and hinted at much later via TV reports and gossip. For a book that features some of the gross-out horror it does, it's pretty subtle stuff.
Monday, January 09, 2006
Oh, and Ricky Gervais enjoyed writing his Simpsons episode.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Today I accidentally set up a basic accounting system for my script writing, editing and game design activities. Cashbooks, receipt folders and detailed step-by-step lists to tell me what to do (along with reminders to tell me when to do it). It was a fair bit of work, but should be pretty simple to maintain.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
CB1: Locke has a (fantastically delivered) bad dream/vision-from-the-Island. He knows where to find the plane.
CB2: Locke and Boone discover the pilot ... therefore, the dream is real.
CB3: The plane is real.
CB4: Locke can walk again BUT Boone is horribly injured in the plane fall. (Aside: Karmically, what happens to Boone could be seen as payback for what he did to Terese.)
Some scattershot observations:
It'll be interesting, on the next viewing, to see what emotions each scene is creating - how those emotions correspond when switching between the flashbacks and events on the Island. What emotions the Commercial Breaks go out on (and how they are underlie, reinforce or work against the plot).
Let's look at what happens to the show when the writers introduce the plane. I've already talked about tying a secret to every new element that you introduce into the story; with the plane, it looks like a similar rule was adopted - every new element you introduce must create a problem for one of your characters. The plane is full of drugs, which will become a source of temptation for Charlie in later seasons.
People seem to experience the Island as a personal metaphor. For Locke, the Island is a mystical experience. In fact, this is a defining episode for demonstrating Locke's mystical approach to the Island - and for him, the stories the Island presents him with are about healing (both his legs and his anger). For Jack, it seems to be about pain, suffering and responsibility. Note that these stories are different (although related) to relationship subplots. The Jack-Locke subplot is almost always framed as 'faith vs. reason' (or, as I've stated before) Red State vs. Blue.
The first scene, with the game of Mousetrap, illustrates what's going on in the whole episode and what's going on right at that very moment.
Locke's anger management problem is also consistent with his childhood, living in foster homes.
Well, the Sawyer plot was played for laughs this week.
Jack (ab)using his power as a doctor to spoil Sawyer's chances with Kate. Sawyer in glasses.
This episode (as ever) raises a few questions:
Did the crashed plane resemble Kate's toy one?
Now Locke has a gun - which seems important. When is it used again?
Who answered Boone's transmission? ...
... and did they say "We are the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815" or "There were no survivors of Oceanic Flight 815"?
The flashbacks are creating questions we want answered - & interesting backstories that we want to see resolved - in their own right. How was Locke paralysed?
In fact, I'd say Boone was eliminated as a character because his story doesn't raise any of these interesting questions. Certainly not for performance reasons; I think Ian Somerhalder was doing fine work in the show; I guess that Boone hadn't proven compelling enough, so he was the logical choice to eliminate in order for the writers to demonstrate that life on the Island is ugly, brutish and short.
The 16 minutes of ads in front of it nearly had the audience rioting.
Today I want to look at pacing - the art of showing the audience what they want to see, when they want to see it.
I loved the first half of Act 1: New York, setting up the characters of Ann and Denham & the race against time. All great stuff.
Once the SS. Venture (the ship transporting back the T-Rex in Jurassic Park 2 had the same name) set sail, I felt the ship should have reached the island about 5 minutes earlier than it did. This feeling started just before the happy-happy Ann dancing a jig while engines pump montage. What I'd do - cut the Jimmy/Hayes stuff with the library book, cut the montage, look for other extraneous bits to trim.
However, just after they set foot on the island, I actually forgot that Kong was about to show up. I was utterly absorbed in what was happening on-screen, rather than what was going to happen next.
Second big pacing problem for me - I felt that Jack should reach Kong about 5 minutes earlier. Isolating the moment that I started feeling this is a little harder, as is finding material to cut or trim (after all I've only seen the movie once). However, I'm pretty sure there are some Jimmy/Hayes moments that could go.
The Jimmy & Hayes relationship has its problems. The main one is that their relationship is never given an interesting shape. Towards the end of it, I caught the hint of Haye's having a paternal love and protectiveness for his surrogate son. If that's the subtext the writers were playing with, it could have been made clearer and more engaging.
Second problem is that The Heart of Darkness stuff is never followed through as a thematic device. It's raised, discussed but never really shown dramatically (as far as I can tell - again from a first viewing). It does give the writers the opportunity to slip in a fantastic line of meta-commentary about the film itself ("It isn't an adventure story, is it?") but I don't think that justifies the material's existence.
However, Jimmy and Hayes provide a source of conflict on the Venture, confronting Denham about his plans. The script is right to do that & Jimmy and Hayes are good characters to do that with. So I'm not arguing for their removal; just a more effective portrayal of their relationship.
I have other - tinier - problems, but that's enough of that. Next post about Kong, I'll talk about the many, many things I loved. To start with - the loneliness of Kong. Yes, I cried during *that* scene in New York. I was really happy that the big ape had finally found happiness.
One thing I like about it so far is how all the characters are vaguely unlikeable. They don’t have serious character flaws, but I can see how the quirks they do have could blow up under pressure.
I’m also reading/re-reading/read some graphic novels from the library: The Filth by Grant Morrison (a grown-up and semi-coherent & complete version of 2000AD's Indigo Prime), Queen & Country: Operation Broken Ground (an absolutely first class spy thriller – just the sort of thing I love), and War Stories: Volume 1 by Garth Ennis. These are short stories set on all sides and theatres of WWII and I found them 50% hit and miss – but the hits (D-Day Dodgers, Nightingale) were devastating.
Monday, January 02, 2006
Here's a breakdown of this Jin-centric episode of Lost goes to commercial break (reviews of previous episodes are here)
It looks like Jin set fire to the raft. (CB1)
Sawyer captures Jin. (CB2)
Sun speaks English (Jin feels betrayed) (CB3)
Jin leaves Sun. (CB4)
This episode is really about giving us the key to Jin's character and why he comes across as so unpleasant. He's torn apart by what he's done for Sun's father and by keeping the knowledge of what her father is from Sun.
Two favourite moments from this episode: when Jin is captured, the scene plays from his POV and all the English that the castaways are yelling at each other comes across as gibberish. Maybe about a minute later, Locke gives a fantastic speech about how they're not alone on the island and how The Others are probably the arsonists. It's a nice bit of mis-direction on the part of the writers ... & if we assume that Locke ALREADY KNOWS who really burnt the raft, then it's an elegant way for him to heal the community, save an innocent man and prevent attention falling on the real arsonist (who he wants to protect).
Plus it allows the viewers to vicariously vent a bit of their frustration about why the castaways aren't doing more exploring ... a moment that'll be echoed by Hurley in the next ep.
Jin and Sun are becoming the great romance of the series. And there's still the question of what's up with these watches he was supposed to be delivering
I really disliked this ep on first viewing - and really liked it on the second. That comes from a complete misreading of what the writers were trying to do with Hurley's flashback. I thought they were going for comedy, slapstick comedy ... but there's something much more serious at work. By the end, when he learned that the numbers were cursed, I was moved by his relief.
Here's how the act breaks break down:
Hurley's new house is on fire, meaning there's a strong case for the money or (as he finds out immediately after we come back from commercials) the numbers being cursed. (CB1)
Lenny, an insane ex-Navy operator, repeats Hurley's numbers over and over. (CB2)
Jack and Sayid blow up Rousseau's base. (CB3)
Hurley delivers the battery, like a hero. (CB4)
And we end with Hurley's numbers on the side of the hatch.
Those act breaks seem a bit messy, like they don't follow a clear emotional path for Hurley - but it's probably just the fact that the danger Jack and Sayid are in has nothing to do with Hurley's quest for meaning.
Aside: I'll have to look back and check whether Hurley's numbers have appeared before. There also seemed to be an in-joke in the script that Hurley owns shares in the box company Locke worked for.
Hurley's luck seems like a device the writers are using to ask questions about fate, but also about the broader meaning of why these particular castaways have been stranded on the island. Is it random or is there meaning behind it? Could it have been anyone who crashed with Hurley or ONLY these specific characters?
How far does Hurley's bad luck extend? Is he responsible for the plane crash? Solely responsible? Is he responsible for Charlie's addiction? Is he an albatross to the rest of the group, even now?
Aside: Ethan's 'team' is still a mystery. Are they part of, or separate from, The Others? What did they want with Shannon?
As a game, it works - creating cutthroat competition and a desire to survive & win - but it's uninspired. Every player's turn is a succession of placing map tiles & zombies, moving your piece, fighting any zombies in your way and then collecting the resources necessary to survive. At any point, other players can play cards against you. The game finishes when a player either kills 25 zombies or climbs aboard the last helicopter out of town.
The gameplay lacks variety. It's basically the same from start to finish - and this repetition is (to me) both boring and, for some reason I haven't yet been able to articulate, counterintuitive. Players in both games I've played have had to keep asking what order they do things in - even after an hour or two of play. There are quite a few elements to keep track of in a single player's turn. Perhaps that's the reason.
Also, as soon as one player gets close to fulfilling the victory conditions, the game becomes a slog to win as other players team up to stop you from succeeding. This is both a problem and a benefit. It significantly increases the time to play but also adds a real element of excitement and means that, as a player, you can finally make meaningful decisions about how you want to try and win.
In general, Zombies!!! takes ages to play & I'm not yet convinced it's worth it. I'll post more about it later.
Sunday, January 01, 2006
... a stupendous Game Notion which lit up the eyes among my group members at first mention.
You have here a perfect and wonderful idea for a custom card game, along the lines of Give Me the Brain or Uno.
You're almost there! You almost have it! Dude, this could be the knockout card game of GenCon 2006 if you breathe deep and see what you have instead of what you intended to have.
Finally, don't change the name! What are you thinking?
Yep, having received comments from 3 different people, we'll keep it as Dirty Virgins.
Ron's idea about 'dropping the voting phase' is completely out of the blue (it's been part of the game for me since the beginning), but I can see his point. And I actually had been thinking about converting it into a card-game.
Does anyone have a copy of Give Me The Brain? What other card games should I play?
So, I have lots of options. I could:
- Playtest what I've got and figure out its pros & cons, or
- Make the voting process work, or
- Immediately start developing it along the card-game route, or
- Keep it as is & hope I don't come to the conclusion 6 months down the track that the voting doesn't work (which has happened to me several times writing scripts when I've gotten feedback from people who know what they're talking about).
(I think Ralph Mazza's essay on game design, Shooting the Sacred Cow is also a relevant read, here.)
Anyway, those are just options. What I'm excited about is that other people are as excited about this as I am. Hell, I'm on holiday at the moment. I think I'll spend some time right now thinking through the ramifications of Ron's feedback.