Friday, March 28, 2008

[RPG] Bad Family - Shooting the Sacred Cows

Tuesday night, my friends helped me out with an enlightening playtest of my game-in-development, Bad Family (previously known as the Lucky Joneses).  “Enlightening”, because this playtest helped me realise how I can tackle the process of rewriting games, much like I’ve spent the last few years figuring out how to rewrite scripts.

Coming back to it after a break of maybe a year allowed me to see where it was working and where it wasn’t. Now I’ve realised that I can use playtests to isolate areas that aren’t working. Working on just those areas gives me an achievable problem to fix, and encourages me to try out different iterations of the game. Rather than try and make it perfect all at once, I can just hone in on creating the type of fun I want.

Ralph Mazza calls the process of realising that the cherished parts of your game aren’t actually working and that you’ll have to change them, “Shooting the Sacred Cows”. I now know what he means. Bad Family is definitely working in the way it creates an unstable and funny situation - the places where it isn’t working are due to me designing the game so that it doesn’t encourage the behaviours I want.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

[TV] Well done, New Zealand TV

I don’t know if this has hit the news here yet or not, but the creator of Veronica Mars (Rob Thomas) will be showrunning the American remake of Outrageous Fortune.


That’s right, a NZ show being remade for the American market. Which may not have happened since Julie Christie sold the format for ‘The Chair’. And I’m not sure has ever happened for a drama. This is a huge thing, and my congratulations to James Griffin and Rachel Lang – the creators of the original thing.


… And how cool was it to see two Kiwi actors in Lost last night? Especially the actor who plays Wolf in OF as the mother-freaking Captain!


Hopefully, the final test

Just checking the formatting of blog posts when I’m sending it from this new email address. My holiday has ended, so I’m expecting posting frequency to decrease again. I also finished formatting the Limit yesterday, using a free scriptwriting package called CeltX – it was good stuff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Duma Key

by Stephen King

Rather than talk about the plot of King's latest novel (the owner of a construction company loses his arm in a horrific on-site accident, and has both medical and supernatural difficulties adjusting to his new life), I'd like to talk about the way it feels.

The novel's beginning is both brutally efficient at changing the status quo by destroying a man's life, and contemplative - it's interested in and observes the ideas of healing, and of establishing a new routine. It takes about a hundred pages to deal with this setup, and then the focus clearly shifts into the main character's new life, his new routine, meeting new people, and slowly ramping up the supernatural elements. From there, it's the steady accumulation of back story, placing tension on old and new friends, and a rising animosity (from the supernatural threat.

Duma Key is definitely a companion piece to Bag of Bones - almost an echo of it in some ways. The two stories both deal with grief, relocating, and a generational mystery - but Duma Key feels looser, more relaxed, and King is diving right into an exploration of the creative process (this time painting, rather than writing) rather than exploring the idea of writer's block. The threat here is also far more epic than in Bag of Bones. Its reach is (theoretically) global, and the sense of power and evil that King manages to create at times approaches the One Ring.

The writing contains King's standard tricks - end of chapter foreshadowing, italicised inner voices speaking in sinister fragments, wealthy protagonists, and Outsiders versus the White (although not referred to by those names). These things have been done many times before, but they're still effective. What's even more effective is his gift of creating characters you care about - which leads to a great 40 pages towards the end of the story that are so desperate and awful, so unafraid to truly screw with the characters you care about, that is easily matches Bag of Bones' concluding experiment in point-of-view for horror.

Recommended - and it makes me wonder if he's gearing up to write stories that are completely non-supernatural, non-thrillers. A fulfilment of the "modern Dickens" label that some publishers and reviewers have been applying to him ever since the Green Mile.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

[Script] More on the 20 Sentence Outline

I've taken an initial crack at outlining Possessions, just jotting down all of the ideas that come to me about where the plot could go. There were a bunch of ideas about charcter mixed in with all that, as well ... which led me to my first discovery:

Brainstorm till you're out of inspiration, then process the results. 'Processing' in this case means taking all the ideas about characters, transferring it to their sheets, and scratching them off the
brainstorming list.

I can take all the plot ideas and transfer them into three separate columns - Beginning, Middle, and End (or as I call them, A, B, and C).

For me, it's important to process this list while I'm still in the moment. For some reason, I find it more difficult to read once I've left it for a while. Perhaps it's because it's impossible to capture
the full implications of an idea just by jotting it down on the page in a single sentence - leaving it for a while means those representations of your ideas become less alive to me.


A second discovery is that outlining like this makes it possible to overview the whole story, which makes it easy to view the story from each main character's POV in turn - something that can take hours if you're doing it at a fully-written script level.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Yet another test

I'm experimenting with posting via email - to see what the formatting
looks like.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Another test


This is just a test of the new system.

multi-dimensional: read what I'm writing about.

Express yourself instantly with MSN Messenger! MSN Messenger

[Script] Holidays might be a good thing

Think I'm going to try scheduling these breaks a bit more formally, actually. I reckon something like 2 months of writing at operational intensity, followed by ... two? three? weeks off might be the way to go.

And at the moment, that time off isn't really a break; it's more an opportunity to play around with several ideas (especially a couple of games) that I've been neglecting. Emphasis on the 'play'. It's fun, and kinda productive.

(And scheduling '3 days off' in the middle of those two months of writing could be smart, too.)

... I'm beginning to realise that between the much-more full-time job this year, the full-on writing, and the intense gaming, that there's a pretty reasonable explanation for things being quiet on the blogging front.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

[The Limit] On holiday

The last two months of hard slog to rewrite act three have paid off. I typed in ALL of the changes on Tuesday, spent yesterday making the minor edits to acts one and two (and roughing out the scene where those parts meet act three), then knocked off for a beer.

Now there's just an exposition scene to try and simplify, format the whole thing up, and send it out for an embarrassment-check draft (to make sure I haven't written anything too cringe-inducingly stupid).

It's been great rereading it though, after such a long break. I was held rapt by the first half of the film, and could see that my rewrites had made it a very different and (hopefully!) more powerful story.

Now to take some time off.

[Script] What I've learned

Here's another couple of principles I've managed to extract from this rewrite:

-- If I can think of writing as 'helping' myself - possibly by treating my projects as being by someone else - it activates my desire to help, and makes the writing easier

-- Scripts are all drafts. Nothing is ever finished. Thinking of it like that is a way to beat back perfectionism.

[Script] An experiment - the 20 sentence outline

This weekend I'm going to start trying to outline one of the new movies in 20 sentences. It's an arbitrary constraint, but one that I think focuses the process down into an achievable bit.

The idea is that each sentence describes a sequence in the film.

1. Using my Brainstorming 20 ideas (B20) technique, I'll come up with a whole list of ideas for plot directions. Some of which, I assume, will be incompatible.

2. Arrange those ideas into a rough order, read through them, and figure out where the story goes off the beam.

3. B20 another lot of ideas for that juncture

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, all the while capturing all of the other plot ideas and character insights that come out of doing this.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

[The Limit] The last scene to rewrite

All of it, the last seven years of writing, it all comes down to this: What's the expression on Tracy's face when she opens the door?