Saturday, September 29, 2012

More Beowulf!

I think I bit off a bit more than I should have today... nevertheless, here's more Beowulf, in case anyone's interested. If you guys like it, I'll keep posting as I translate. I'd like to have the whole poem translated within a year.

To Scyld Scefing a son was granted,
an heir to his house, 
sent by God as a comfort to the people, 
for they had suffered long
with no Lord to love or lead them.

The Life-Lord, Wielder of Glory,
gave honor and renown to that boy.
Beow was his name,
father to the father to the father of Beowulf
of whom our story is told.

Scyld's heir was known and loved
far and wide, and why?
Young men could learn from him.

The young hero gave splendid gifts
to his dear companions
so that when war came
they would stand by his side
to defend the people.

In lands everywhere,
by lofty deeds
will a man prosper.

On Blogging... and why we write

Maintaining this blog is an interesting learning experience. What I'm finding is that I feel a lot more comfortable when I've written the posts in advance. My intent, at this point, is to keep the Lone Wolf story going on Mondays and Wednesdays (which, of course, can't be written very much in advance due to reader involvement) and to put out one more deep and thoughtful post with actual content once a week on Fridays.

What I'm finding, especially for those thoughtful, content-ful posts is that if I put it off till Friday, I'm no good. I'm just stressed about typing it, and can't think about the actual content to really focus on it.

Which is why, tonight, instead of what I had scheduled for you, I'm going to write about Moonrise Kingdom.

If you haven't seen Moonrise Kingdom yet, go watch it. Right now. Stop what you're doing, go find somewhere where it's still playing; if it's not still playing, get a bootlegged copy. Then buy the dvd when it comes out.

This movie took me away to another, magical world, a place where boys can be men, where dreams can come true, where life is hard, but it all comes together in the end, and where true love can be found at the end of a very awkward and difficult rainbow.

I wish that was my life.

There are only two other movies that come to mind that have made me feel this way: Miyazaki's Spirited Away, when I was in college, and My Girl, with Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky when I was a kid.

What I really getting at here is this: it's stories like these that make me want to write. Sometimes, I come across something so spectacular, so inspiring, that I can't help but fall in love.

Here's where it gets tricky though. Moonrise Kingdom is a fantasy. It's a very good fantasy. Hell, it's MY fantasy, packaged up, put in a box, and handed to me tied up in a pretty, silver ribbon. And it makes me happy that someone out there understood me well enough, without ever having met me, to tell that story.

But it's still a fantasy.

I watched a very interesting pair of Extra Credits episodes the other night about Spec Ops, The Line. The guys at Extra Credit were basically blown away by this game because by the end it becomes clear that it's not just another shooter--it's actually critiquing it's own genre and making a point, a very real, very unpleasant point.

If you haven't watched these episodes of Extra Credits yet, the basic gist is this: Spec Ops, the Line, drives your character to actions that any reasonable human would question, but that you are so used to doing in games of this genre that you don't question it, only then they use the gameplay and story to highlight just how unnacceptable everything your character is doing is, without actually ever breaking the tropes of the genre.

As you proceed through the game, the message becomes more and more clear, and on more than one occasion, lines in the narrative break the fourth wall and directly address the player. The most powerful of these comes at the end, "You're here because you want to pretend to be something you're not... a hero."

The Extra Credits guys then go on to point out that all the big title shooter games, in fact many games and stories, especially popular ones, go out of their way to make the reader/player/viewer feel like a hero. It's a carefully cultivated fantasy.

This raises some very serious and disturbing questions for me. Is it actually okay to use fiction to live out fantasies that aren't, and never will be real? What are the moral ramifications of this? Or, re-phrased, does that actually make our lives better?

Escapism, fantasy and wish-fulfillment are all very nice, but does it actually make us happier, better people? Moonrise Kingdom made me incredibly happy to watch, but now, in retrospect, it kinda just leaves me feeling very depressed, because that's not my life, it wasn't my life, and now it never will be my life. The closest I can come to experiencing those kinds of events is through fiction, either enjoying it as an audience member, or potentially creating it myself.

I loved Moonrise Kingdom, but is it just wish fulfillment? If it is, is that okay? Should we aspire to something more than that in creating fiction? Or is that enough, once in a while?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Opening Poem of Beowulf

Hey guys, a special treat for you today! This is my own (loose) translation of the opening poem of Beowulf. I've always kinda wanted to study some Old English; now it's actually going to come in handy for one of the projects I'm working on!

If you guys like it/are interested, I might keep posting little tidbits relating to Old English now and again. Here it is...

What? Listen!
Hear of Spear-Danes in days of yore
hear of Kings of Men
and learn of glory.

Hear of Scyld Scefing
called the Shield King
How he showed courage,
How he scattered threats
How he took the mead-halls of his enemies...

And made other kings fear him.

He started out with nothing
Found destitute as a babe.
He would not stay that way.

He grew, under the great sky,
in power, in honor, in prosperity,
until all other kings
that dwelt upon the whale road
had to give him tribute.

That was a good king!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lone Wolf Book 2 - Episode 10

To catch up on the story so far, see Book One or prior episodes of Book Two: 1234567, 8, or 9.

[Didn't get any comments last time, (that's a first! are people losing interest?) so I'll go ahead and decide to use the cloak to try and flag down the fishing boat we see.]

Struggling up on your piece of flotsam as much as you can, you wave your makeshift flag and holler at the top of your lungs. Just when you think they've missed you, the little boat turns your direction.

The crew turn out to be sea-bitten sailors and rough fishermen, but they treat you kindly enough, bringing you blankets and a bit of food. They say they are returning to port now, and tuck you in with the fish.

It will be 2-3 hours before you dock in Ragadorn. The men encourage you to get some rest.

If you wish to take his advice, restore 1 ENDURANCE point andturn to 194.
If you prefer to stay awake and keep watch for any other survivors of the storm, turn to 251.

[Save Point: 41]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Failure and Death in Gamebooks

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how to impose consequences for failure in gamebooks. The traditional method is with death, but how much fun dying is for the player is questionable.

To be sure, a well-written, colorful death scene, especially in the right tone of book, can be a lot of fun. Some of the most memorable moments of those old fighting fantasy books are some of the crazy death scenes you can get yourself into.

But from a game flow perspective, it just ends the game for the player. This jars them from the game experience, possibly causing them to stop. It's not as fun to fail as to succeed. And it may force them to re-do material they have already gone through, which is not fun, and depending on how demanding that material is, may be tedious enough to drive the player to set the book aside rather than try again.

On the other hand, though success is more fun than failure, success loses that fun factor if failure isn't very likely. If success is spoon-fed to you, it loses it's significance.

So, we're looking at a few factors here:

Challenge Factor: This is a measure of how difficult real success is to achieve. Generally, this is like salt: more of it is better, until you have too much.

but this must be balanced against...

Tedium Factor: Generally, given that this is not real death we are talking about, death in a game means going back and doing it again. For highly content-based games, forcing the player to re-do material they've already done isn't fun the second, or third, or fifth, or tenth time around. Even for more gameplay oriented games, repeating material isn't usually as fun unless it is part of honing the skill of the game.

The only time I see repetition being fun is when the death was a learning experience, and now you get to go back and try again, with more knowledge and skill. When repetition means trying again at something you failed at the first time, learning and trying again until you get it right, it's fun. But if you have to repeat stuff that's not related to why you died, just to get back to the challenge that actually challenges you, that's not as fun.

So the question becomes: In gamebooks, what cost do you impose on the player for failure? Death is just one option for that cost, and effectively what it amounts to is, "go back and try again, you loser." There are two costs in death: one is the cost to status and self-prestige. It's a message to the player, "you didn't make it, try again." The other is a cost to time, in that they are then asked to replay a certain portion of the game. On the other hand, that cost is only a cost if the repetition is unrewarding. Theoretically, getting to try again could be a good thing if it throws you right back into the meaningful, fun part of the gameplay. In that case, the cost of death is only the status cost, the "you failed" message. But while that's not awesome in and of itself, it can heighten the full gameplay experience, if the player feels like they could succeed. In that case, he or she is driven to try again, and success is all the sweeter when it's achieved.

The concept of death in video games perhaps made more sense when these were arcade games, and the cost of failure was a very real one: another $0.25 to keep playing. But even then, the only lure to keep playing is the feeling that you could have gotten it right, with another try maybe you can achieve mastery.

So, what I'm coming to is that ideally, player death in a video game should take them back right to the point where they need to do something different. This presents it's own problems, though, in that perhaps the thing you would need to change is a puzzle, and finding it is part of the challenge.

Let me rephrase: Ideally, player death in a game should reset them to the beginning of the challenge which they failed.

As a followup tenet from that, achieving success with repetition should be a matter of honing player skill, not a matter of luck. There is no satisfaction to hitting a button again and again till it comes up with the "you may proceed" screen. There IS satisfaction in improving personal skill and achieving mastery of a game mechanic.

Hmm... this post has been sort of a random, disorganized rant, and I wound up talking more about how to use death effectively rather than alternatives to death, but I think there's enough here to go ahead and post it. Maybe I'll do a followup on this topic later.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lone Wolf Book 2 - Episode 9

To catch up on the story so far, see Book One or prior episodes of Book Two: 1234567, or 8.

[Apparently I was totally wrong about the save point. 208 goes to a totally unrelated section, much farther in the book! Good thing I noted down 197 as well... anyway...]

You are woken the following morning by the terrible rocking of your ship. It sways and bucks, as though the ocean itself were trying to throw it off.

Donning your clothes as quickly as you can in the uncertain gloom, you rush outside, to find sheets of rain pouring from the sky. The captain shouts, waving for you to go back down. But just then, you hear a terrible crack--and look up to find the main mast has split, and the huge beam of wood is falling right toward you!

Breath catching in your throat, you run as quickly as you can--but you are too slow! A part of the rigging slams into your back. The impact knocks the wind from you, and you feel yourself falling, while terrified shouts sound from behind you.

The splash of cold water shocks you to your senses. You scramble, thrashing in the water, trying to find the surface. When you broach air, you see the ship getting farther away from you, a beacon of light fading into the darkness of the storm.

You fight your way through the storm to another piece of debris and hang on. From the amount of broken bits of wood around here, you don't feel good about the Green Sceptre's chances...

Fighting exhaustion, numbing cold and trembling fingers, you cling to the hatch cover until the storm breaks and you waken to clear skies in the late afternoon. You shade your eyes against the sun to look around.

In the distance you can see a small fishing boat and beyond it, on the horizon, land. The only trace of the Green Sceptre is the hatch cover on which you now sit.

If you wish to use your cloak to try to signal to the fishing boat, turn to 278.

If you wish to ignore the boat and paddle towards the shore,turn to 337.

[Well, so much for our ride. Save Point: 141. Oh, we also lose 2 endurance from the blow to the back. Healing should take care of that right quick.]

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lone Wolf Book 2 - Episode 8

The Lone Wolf is back at it! To catch up on the story so far, see Book One or prior episodes of Book Two: 123456 or 7.

You rush outside, following the captain, in time to see a longboat rowing swiftly away from your ship. The captain says, "It seems our bird has flown."

In the distance you see another ship, one of mysterious make, which flies no flags. The longboat pulls up alongside the strange vessel, and a fog rises from no where to engulf them both. The captain hisses an indrawn breath, saying, "What sorcery is this? Let us move on, I want no part of it."

Muttering spreads across the deck of the ship; the men saw the fog rise too, and they are no less scared of it than the captain. Only the captain's booming voice settles them and whips them into action again.

After a thorough accounting of the damage caused by the fire, the captain comes to you with sobering news. "The fire destroyed our food supplies, and has crippled my ship. We have no choice but to stop at Ragadorn for repairs. I am sorry, but the repairs will take at least a week. It may be faster for you to find your own transport the rest of the way to Port Bax."

The crew greet this news with happy enthusiasm, and set to their work with renewed vigor, but it is with a heavy heart that you see the coastline growing closer the following day. Forty days, the king had said... you have only forty days to complete your mission...

[Someone roll me a d10! Save point: 208, though the d10 roll result will be used on 197.]

Friday, September 14, 2012

Whoa... somebody left this blog here

Hey guys, look! There's this kinda cool blog about gamebooks that somebody left lying around here. I love gamebooks!

Aw, it doesn't seem like anybody has done much with it in a while. Maybe, if nobody minds, I'll just write a post or two...

So yeah... sorry for all the silence. In the last few weeks, I have A) gotten a new job that's pretty time intensive, B) started dating a very cool girl, and C) been very focused on finishing my submission for the Windhammer Prize.

You can see why I might have been a bit busy ;)

Anyway, the main thing I would like to say is, "Windhammer Prize Fuck Yeah!"

So, one week ago today I submitted my entry for the 2012 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction. A few days later I found that there are no less than 21 other contestants this year, an unprecedented number and something I am delighted to find out (even if it lowers my chances!)

Today, the voting phase of the contest officially opened, and all 22 entries are now live on Wayne Densley's website. If you haven't checked it out yet, I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

May glory and renown follow all who have entered there!