Pushback Against Liar’s Year 2020

Today I want to “push back” against a couple of assumptions in a YouTube video. I want to be as respectful as possible as I feel that there’s too much negativity out there, especially when one person disagrees with another.

Liar’s Year 2020

So, the YouTuber in question is Jim Stirling and the video I want to push back against is his latest Jimquisition episode: Liar’s Year 2020. A little context: Jim is a video game’s journalist who started his own YouTube channel. While he does discuss video games, he takes it upon himself to point out various corporate shenanigans and duplicitous schemes within the larger corporate paradigm, but most specifically inside of the world of video games. As noted above, while don’t agree with him on some of his points (this obviously being one of them), I do watch his videos as he is one of the few voices that actually discusses the excesses of corporations–although I wish it could be done in a less strident way.

However, in this video, he rails against several game companies for not showing gameplay footage at their “gameplay” reveals or showing footage that is “aspirational” of what next generation will look like in the future. He takes Sony, Epic Games (Unreal Engine), Ubisoft, and Gearbox (among others) to task for their propensity in a new console generation to exaggerate, stretch the truth, and outright lie about the capabilities of the new machines. While he isn’t necessarily wrong, I do feel that he 1) overstates the case and 2) ignores the changes at least one company has made (Sony) to address his concerns.

Gameplay = Gameplay

Let’s start with that second one first, as it is the impetus for me writing this blog entry. Sony takes it on the chin (yet again) in this video. For as much as Sony is discussed, you would think that it was them, and not Microsoft (the true guilty party) who held a “Gameplay event” with trailers that barely showed any gameplay (or only stylized, non-representative gameplay). Sony, however, had the misfortune of releasing a Killzone video that was unrepresentative of actual gameplay in the early 2000s.

The reason I feel this is so wrong is that Sony has spent an entire console generation making up for that previous mistake. I’ve linked an entire 18 minute gameplay trailer for their upcoming game releasing this year: Ghost of Tshushima. It even included (what appears to be) HUD elements.

Now this isn’t the first game that Sony has done this for. Most of its major titles this generation have gotten this treatment: Infamous: Second Son, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, The Last of Us, Part II, Until Dawn, God of War, The Last Guardian, The Order 1886 and even Killzone Shadowfall got “gameplay trailers” that showed actual gameplay. Below is a video of young woman skeptically wondering if the Horizon Zero Dawn “gameplay” trailer was actually “true” and being absolutely thrilled when she realized it was:

Sony has spent an entire “console generation” trying to win back the trust of gamers when presenting games to the public. While most Sony games are presented without UI/HUD, for the vast majority of their games, the game you see in the “gameplay demonstration” is the game you end up playing.

All Microsoft has to do is utter the words 12 terraflops and Gamepass and gamers (not necessarily Jim, but the gaming community in general) and Microsoft is forgiven for trying enact one of the most restrictive consoles policies and launches in the history of video games.

Overstating the Case

The other problem I have (in this instance) is that Jim “cherry-picks” his examples. For instance, nowhere does Jim discuss the original C. D. Projeckt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 48 minute gameplay demo in which the developers take pains to point out how much is in flux. This is the nature of game development in general. The exact arguments he levels against Sony, Epic, Unreal Engine 5, and Ubisoft are the very same arguments used by the developers of Cyberpunk 2020 to illustrate that they were still iterating on the design.

No where does he mention that this gameplay demonstration was presented in the same light as the gameplay demonstrations that he is objecting to, but Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay wasn’t in Liar’s Year 2020, but 2018. This video has over 19 million hits and is insanely popular–but in the first 5 minutes of the video, the developers hedge the features and look of the demo, not once, but twice.

The start of a new console generation does allow developers, marketers, and executives to perhaps stretch the truth, but that’s not necessarily all on them–that’s also on us. One of the mantras should always be: check the reviews! Too many people buy games sight unseen based on the marketing materials.

Who Do You Trust?

In conclusion, I guess I really wanted to push back that the console generation switch means that “lies” are the only thing that is a part of the experience. When you have a console maker spend several years trying to make up for a mistake and show “gameplay” and when have another console maker not show “gameplay” at a “Gameplay Reveal Event,” it calls into question the credibility of the argument.

Whenever Sony does show its line-up, I have a fairly high confidence that what I’ll be seeing is what I’ll be playing. While I know that the Unreal 5 “tech demo” was just that, a proof of concept of what is possible on the hardware, it isn’t the prerendered trailers that we’ve been shown in the past and it represents what is possible at this time. Yes, much of it could be marketing hype. However, given the track record of Mark Cerney, chief architect of the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5, and the fact that games like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us (Parts I and II), Spider-Man, and God of War actually looked like and played as their gameplay demonstrations showed, I’m willing to give them more credibility versus an actor who is put in a game and is brought out on-stage to try to sell a game (Ubisoft & Microsoft, I’m looking at you). It is highly possible that the Unreal Engine 5 will not be able to do what it is promising, but based on Sony’s recent track record (especially in light of Microsoft’s), I’m willing to take that bet.

Sidney


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Movie Monday Mini Review: Appleseed Alpha

Briareos and Deunan walking down a deserted city block with a dilapidated brick building in the background.
Image Source: https://whysoblu.com/appleseed-alpha-blu-ray-review/

Unfortunately, there’s no easy way on a keyboard to find the “Alpha” symbol, but that is the true name of this CG anime movie, but for now, “alpha” will do. Appleseed was created by Shirow Masamune (written this way in the movie credits although I know him as Masamune Shirow from the english language adaptation of his work from Dark Horse comics back in the 80s). Appleseed follows Deunan and her cybernetic boyfriend Briareos in a post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged Earth. (Minor spoiler to skip for those vested in the universe and want to go into the movie totally “blind”): Appleseed Alpha serves as a “prequel” to the story of the manga, as a couple of major characters from manga are there, but the characters and places that are integral to the manga are simply hinted at and not shown in this movie. This story could be a theoretical “just before” story which happens just before the story in the manga kicks off (although, by its ending, there could theoretically b other stories told after this one before the manga story’s timeline begins).

Appleseed Fan

I’m a fan of Appleseed, if you can’t tell. I was lucky, as a child, to find 5 or 6 issues of the Dark Horse run of the series. Mechs and Mecha (human pilots in humanoid robots and power armor) appeals to my type of action sci-fi, and one thing that Appleseed does well is Mechs/Mecha. While Briareos was cool, if odd looking, and Deunan was capable, if sometimes a little to moody, it was the mechs (or rather mecha) that drew me in. Mechs (in my definition) are large vehicles that a pilot sits in and “pilot.” Mecha, on the other hand, are (mostly) human sized power armor. Shirow Masamune is a “master” at depicting mecha and mecha designs, and while the combat scenes are sometimes chaotic, seeing an “Iron Man“-like suit in action was something new and different at the time for me. While I never got the complete set, I did splurge a few years back and got the complete story when they re-released the original manga version with its original Japanese right-to-left format.

Prefer the Manga Still

It’s been long enough that I don’t remember the other movie versions of Appleseed that I’ve seen. However, I do remember that I’m pretty sure that I liked them better than this one. While I liked the movie overall, there were some odd design choices that really hampered my overall enjoyment of the movie. For one, while Briareos looks like himself in all his cyborg, four eyes, two ear “stalks” glory, something about Deunan looks off. I can’t tell if it is the short hair (or the hairstyle itself), the facial structure, or the way she’s animated, but every time she was on-screen, I couldn’t help thinking, “that’s not Deunan.” The same is true with her characterization. In the manga, Deunan is stubborn, almost to the point of obstinance. Here, there’s a place where she just gives up out of nowhere and Briareos has to talk her out of this despondency. Another thing that was off for me was the character of “Two Horns“. While I respect the actor (who is black) and don’t want to denigrate his work as he is very proud of the role: https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/tomball/news/article/Tomball-man-lands-major-role-in-upcoming-CGI-9678246.php), it does bother me that the “criminal” character (even if he ultimately has a “heart of gold”) is played by someone of color. This is why I think Afrofuturism is so important as I would love to see this actor play a noir detective, or fleet admiral, or futuristic cab driver, or a myriad of other roles rather than the criminal/sports star that seems to pass for roles for people of color in sci-fi movies.

Overall Score: 78-79 (C+)

This is one that I was predisposed to like because I like the source material. While understand the desire not to tell the same story over again from the manga, as they done that several times already with the previous animated film, this film felt far less “epic” in scope because of the choice. This movie didn’t have the complexity of the other movies and comes across as being, to turn a phrase, Appleseed “lite.” Add to that the odd looking CG models for some of the characters, Deunan, especially, and the choice to keep putting actors of color in stereotypical roles (admittedly, not unique to this movie, unfortunately), and it just created too many problems to overcome for me to fully enjoy the narrative. I hate to admit it, but I was checking the time remaining on this film far more than I usually do for films that I watch (and this is from someone who is a fan of the source material). That just about says it all.

Sidney


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Storytelling the Expanse Way

Cast of The Expanse in futuristic space suits against a dark futuristic interior
Image Source: https://www.space.com/the-expanse-season-4-and-5-on-amazon.html

I have to admit this upfront: I originally didn’t like The Expanse. There, I said it. This isn’t news to long-time blog readers as I made no secret about how much I disliked the first season of the show. I “peaced out” after the first episode of the 2nd season. However, last January, when my car died and I was stuck in the apartment for the whole weekend (heh, a pandemic and quarantine gives a whole new meaning to being “stuck”), I watched the entire series of the show in a weekend and I was amazed that I dismissed it so thoroughly as it was really good.

I’ve watched it quite often since, trying to figure out how I could have gotten it so wrong. I think I understand what The Expanse does that makes it so compelling, but why it initially turned me off.

History First

So, I believe that Tolkien would have loved this particular series as well. What the creators of the show (and I assume the book) do very well is focus on the history and then set the characters loose with events. History is paramount to the series and most of the first season sets up the interplay between Mars, Earth, and the Belt. Then (no spoilers), they throw a wrinkle in the midst and then go from there. Tolkien was a huge advocate for setting up the history of a place–that’s why Middle Earth feels like a lived in world. As I’m reading The Lord of the Rings again, I notice how Tolkien is discussing people, events, and places that aren’t really relevant to the story at hand, but give much more context for what is happening and why it is happening.

Mystery Second

The second thing that the creators do is that they present story arcs in the form of mini-mysteries. Yes, that’s right, much of the “binge-watchability” (like the new formation of the word I created there?) of the show comes from the fact that they show you (Colombo-style) what happens at the end of the arc in the very beginning of the arc and then slowly the narrative unfolds until you have all the pieces. Once you reach the end, you see how that piece that they gave you at the very beginning then fits into the larger story. Colombo did this very well, but it gave away the entire ending as you knew who the murderer was and then it was just watching Colombo put together the lies, half-truths, and mistakes of the criminal and watching their ever increasing desperation as the detective got ever closer to the truth. In The Expanse, it is more like a puzzle, in which they give you a “glimpse” of a puzzle filled in and then before you can make complete sense of what you’re seeing, they scatter ALL the pieces and begin reforming the puzzle again. You still have your “clue,” but it isn’t relevant for 4-5 episodes until you have enough of the overall puzzle filled in again to start making connections to what you saw at the beginning.

Warm Up/Cool Down Third

And finally, well not finally, but it is the last one I want to talk about today, they do this interesting technique that I’ve not seen in other long form narrative shows (shows whose episodes follow a story arc and aren’t “episodic” in nature) in that it follows (for the most part) this scenerio: Warm-up episode, 1-3 action focused episodes, Cool down episode. Now, there are exceptions to this, but having watched the series well over 10 times now (and individual episodes to coincide with various reactors–I’m following 5 Expanse reactors at the moment), there is a pattern that you can see developing in those episodes. The Warm-up episode usually establishes some strange situation or occurrence or sets up a problem that needs to be solved/resolved. The Action episodes are usually ones that are “cooking” episodes where the action is happening and everything comes to a “boiling point” (which is usually some unexpected revelation–either plot or character, rarely both at the same time, but it has happened). The Cool-down episode is usually character focused and spends time relating how the characters have been changed or how they are relating to the new status quo.

The cycle usually repeats (although in Seasons 1 & 4, this is elongated and it makes it seem slow at times.) Season 2 and 3 are so hyper-focused on this pattern that it makes the show so intense.

To Watch The Expanse You Have to Embrace the Mystery

Although The Expanse is a science fiction show that features combat, space ship scenes, and a realistic depiction of a science fiction world, one must embrace the mystery genre in order to truly appreciate it. It isn’t so much a “puzzlebox” that is the hot buzzword term in the film industry right now as it is a throwback to a genre that has fallen out of favor. This show leans heavily on the mystery of what has happened/is happening in order to drive its narrative. By showing you a piece of the “endgame” and then going back and filling in those pieces one plot point and character moment at a time, it is inviting you to help construct the narrative along with it and entices you to come along with it to “enjoy the ride.”

Sidney


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Lightsabers: A May the 4th Blog Topic

A man in silhouette holding a glowing blue lightsaber in a fighting pose.
Image Source: https://www.geeky-gadgets.com/flowsaber-stunt-sabre-hits-kickstarter-17-03-2017/

I don’t usually “celebrate” May 4th, but today I’m just going to do a short blog topic on what is probably my favorite weapon of all time: The Lightsaber. When I saw it in the original Star Wars (Episode 4) , it blew my mind. However, it wasn’t until Empire Strikes Back (Episode 5) that I really understood the power and ferocity of what a lightsaber could truly do. The fight between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader was something that I play out endlessly.

Toy Lightsabers

I’ve always had a lightsaber. I may have told this story before, but my local amusement park–Lake Winnepesaukah–had a gift shop that sold little knickknacks. One of those was a toy lightsaber. It was two pieces of plastic–a black plastic hilt and a red (or blue or green) plastic blade that was hollowed out so that when you swung it, it produced a whistling sound that–if you swung it hard enough–produced a sound effect not unlike that of the uncanny roar from the movies (if you used your imagination enough).

“Real” Lightsabers

Over the past few years, there’s been a cottage industry to build “real” lightsabers. Not the ones that are actual “lasers” mind you, but adult versions of lightsabers in which the hilt is metallic and the blade is some sort of PVC that is both light and durable. Most of the companies making the sabers are small businesses that create the blades for show, for competition, or for stunt-work. The prices can vary, anywhere from 75 to 500 hundred dollars (US) at the time of this entry, depending on the company and quality.

I Want One

In case there’s any doubt, I want one of these new generation “real” lightsabers. I don’t back Kickstarters as rule–my experience has taught me that I only have luck with products that have been released and reviewed, so I missed my chance to own the lightsaber that I really want–a Flowsaber. It is one of the “stunt” sabers that are out there that allow people to learn how to do lightsaber “stunts” with their saber. They offer a “balanced” lightsaber to help with those stunts, but they are currently in a 2nd kickstarter mode and have not offered “Gen 2” for sale. It is also probably on the expensive side (it is about 200-250 dollars US from what I remember for the Gen 1 versions).

There are other sabers out there, ones that look and feel much more like a real lightsaber, hilt that mimics the original designs from the movies, lighted PVC blades, and integrated sound effects chips embedded in the hilt. There are a couple of companies that make these, and of these two only Ultrasabers produces an affordable set ($75-125 US dollars).

I don’t have a lot of discretionary income (well pretty much none), but I think that my goal for the next year. To earn enough from my writing (and other endeavors) to get a good lightsaber.

May the 4th (and Force) Be With You!

Sidney


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Reading Log: Frankenstein and The Hunger Games

A journal with a stylized pen drawn banner with the words "Reading Log" on the left side and pen drawn books with titles written on the spine.
Image Source: https://allthehippieshit.com/bullet-journal-collection-2-reading-log/

So, I liked the way the blog post came together for my Writing Log post a couple of weeks back, so I think I”ll expand it so that I cover 4 or 5 different elements of my life in a “log” format and publish them (potentially) on Fridays–the day when I find it hardest to get blog posts done and out. I’m thinking it will follow writing, reading, video games, and some other fourth thing (not sure what that will be at the moment). Still, I really like the format, so look out for these on Fridays.

Now on to the log!

Frankenstein

This is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for a while. I started it once before as I wanted to read it before watching Kenneth Branaugh’s movie adaptation of it. As I think I may have mentioned before on the blog at some point, I never got past the introduction/prologue of the tale and never watched the movie. However, my mentor professor, who is teaching a sci-fi literature course this semester, made it the beginning literary work to examine, so I read it along with the class and I enjoyed it. What I took most from it was how changed it is from the Boris Karloff movie. Now, I’ve not seen that one either, so one of these days, I really need to just go on a Frankenstein binge-fest, but I think I like the book’s quiet menace and contemplation on what it means to be different and hated. One could almost make a parallel between Frankenstein’s monster and racism based on the fact that the prejudice comes from the way the monster looks, not (initially) the way he acts. There is also something to be said about the nature vs nurture debate, in that things that happen later in the book are a direct result of how the creature was (not) nurtured rather than an product of its creation (birth). There is a lot to unpack in this novel, and one of the reasons that it is still such a classic even today. It makes me wonder why Branagh’s interpretation was so roundly disliked since it seemed to move back towards the book and be a much more faithful interpretation than than the Karloff story.

The Hunger Games

Like The Expanse, this is a book that I read at first and did NOT enjoy. While I liked the concept, I didn’t like (at the time) the way the characters were presented. It has been quite a few years since it first came out, and I think I read it–if not at the height of its popularity–quite close to it and I believe that it was probably “overhyped” in my mind and that helped to predispose me against it. I gave it 3 stars (out of 5) on Goodreads.

Rereading it, I’m able to appreciate it more. and I feel that it is a better book than I originally gave it credit for all those years ago. Another thing that I think helped is that understanding that I’m NOT the target audience for this book. No, I’m not talking about gender here or even YA, but rather, I’m not interested in the slightest in “Reality TV,” and that’s almost a requirement here. You have to be interested in the inside/outside machinations of that type of entertainment structure to really get into this book. In the intervening years, the “Battle Royal” subgenre has become a thing in video games, and while I’m not really big into that type of game, it is a reference point/touch point through which I can get into the story now–a book version of the “battle royal” genre.

I also liked the “Rue” subplot better this time around and the reaction to it really had the “weight” that I think it was supposed to have. As an African American, I may have been a bit miffed at the time at the outcry against Rue’s casting for the movie (and there was an outcry–I remember the news stories), and probably held that against the book–even though Rue is written in the book as a dark-skinned character. However, now that this controversy has faded, I was able to read the interaction as the author intended and found that it was a really captivating moment. Enough that I actually want to watch the movie. I even went back to Goodreads and gave it 4 stars (out 5).

Sidney


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ReWatch: Wall-E and Crazies

Animated character Wall-E (yellow and brown) raising his hand with a pristine EVE beside him.
Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-Movie-Figure-Figures-Supertoys/dp/B012K3O8EI

Over the weekend, rather than watching a new film, I chose to re-watch two films that I’d already seen before, Wall-E and Crazies. Wall-E is an animated film from Pixar that is fairly well regarded (95% critics/ 90% audiences). Crazies (2010) is much less so, garnering a Rotten Tomatoes score of 71% from critics, but only a 52% from audiences. I happen to like them both, but watched them both for very different reasons.

Science Fiction Literature Class and Wall-E

While I’ve multiple English Literature classes, I’ve never had the opportunity to teach one. I’ve always taught introductory Rhetoric classes. This year, my school came up with a “mentorship” program to help those, like me, get more experience in teaching literature who normally teach just rhetoric course. My mentor happened to be teaching a Science Fiction Literature course this semester. One of the movies that she had on the syllabus was Wall-E as an example of ecological Science Fiction.

I really enjoy both the story and the message of Wall-E and I was reminded of it when I rewatched it a couple of days ago. One of the things that struck me was the way gender was handled with EVE. While very progressive in some respects, there are some more stereotypical ways in her characterization. I’m noticing this, by the way, because there is a Conference that will be issuing a “Call for Papers” about women’s issues, and I guess I’m noticing these things more.

Crazies (2010)

An infected man (zombie-like) in a blue shirt reaching through jail bars.
Image Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7w9uWFIMBs

Crazies (2010) is an “infection” movie that, while not technically a “zombie” movie, acts like one functionally. I was in the mood to see it again since it has come back on to streaming. While not nearly as intense as World War Z, it has a similar set up, with a local sheriff tasked with figuring out and surviving an outbreak that is happening in his town.

Again, while not perfect–sometimes the “zombies” kill immediately and indiscriminately, while other times they hold off–to increase the tension (demanded by the plot usually), it still is a good movie that isn’t “just” the same old story retread as every other “zombie” movie.

Like Wall-E, however, it has some interesting things to say about its female characters. Like EVE, the main female character has elements that are progressive and stereotypical at the same time. Motherhood and life-nurturing character traits seem to be consistent in both of them, yet both are portrayed as career women and women who will take no guff from their male counterparts. Again, just something that I noticed that might become a paper in the future.

Still, that is such an interesting idea that has sparked that I may do that a little more often in the future–rewatch older films together and see what ideas spark from them and where I can put them into conversation with each other–who knows, I might even find a video game or two that also helps to round out the idea and see what emerges from there.

Have a great day!

Sidney


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What Writers Can Learn from Disney Star Wars Trilogy’s Mistakes

A combination of all 3 Disney Star Wars Trilogy movie posters side-by-side.
Image Source: https://www.quora.com/How-would-you-fix-the-Star-Wars-sequel-trilogy-1

Okay, not to flog a dead topic, but as SO many other reviewers have noted, while Rise of Skywalker does some things well, it turns out to be an unsatisfying end to the trilogy and 9 movie arc because it shows that there was no consistent plan. As the story goes, after J.J. Abrams finished Force Awakens, he had “loose” notes on the way the story should go that the next director, in this case Rian Johnson could use or not use as he saw fit.

Mistake! This why I’m always “banging” on about about the need/importance of outlines and trying to minimize “discovery” writing (for myself) as much as possible.

Why Outlines are Important!

I feel outlines are critical because stories (either fictional or ones that we hear about/tell others about in real life) are not just events. You’re not just relying a set of events that happened to you or someone else–although that’s part of it. You’re relating a series of events in order to 1) make a point about something or 2) reveal something (usually something you discovered as a result of those related events). Each case, while different, gets at the heart of storytelling and narrative.

Yet, if you’re just throwing random events together, or even if you are trying to following a logical progression of events, the one element you’re missing is the element of planning. What events are you going to foreground because they’re necessary to understanding the point of the story or what was learned/gained from the story? These are all questions that an outline helps to answer.

Let’s take Rey’s parents as an example as this was a particularly contentious “bone” that both Rian Johnson and Star Wars fans hotly debated. Let’s, for the sake of argument, pretend that The Last Jedi contained the “outline” that is supposed to have existed after Force Awakens. Had Johnson followed the idea, we could have been given the information about Rey’s parents (spoiler so I won’t reveal it here) in the 2nd movie (last act), and then she would have had to wrestle with it at the end of the 2nd movie, during the intervening time between movies (for characters) and then all through the 3rd movie. I mean, since we’re paying “homage” to Lucas anyway with the set-ups for these movies as they are very similar to the original trilogy, then this is what happens in Empire. Luke learns his parentage at the end of that movie, simmers over it during the intervening time, and then confronts Ben Kenobi’s Force ghost about it in Return of the Jedi. The revelation meant something, his conflict (inner turmoil) meant something, and him confronting Vader meant something (because Vader, at that point, wasn’t a nameless, faceless enemy, but his own father). A point was made and delivered. Not so with the Disney trilogy. As the reveal of Rey’s parentage comes in the 3rd act (or late 2nd act) Rise, there’s next to no impact on Rey outside of “shock value.” There was no emotional investment of the information.

Essentially, the storyteller focused on the “wrong” thing–shock value in learning Rey’s parents/heritage over emotional investment in seeing Rey struggle with the knowledge of who she was and is and a choice that she has to make as to whether to be defined by her heritage or break free from it. There could have been a powerful (American) introspection of are you bound by your circumstances or can you rise above them. However, with no outline, this is NOT in the story and helps to create the audience dissatisfaction that we see reflected in the 52% Rotten Tomatoes score.

In Defense of Outlines (and Drafts)

In closing, outlines help to provide a coherent framework to a story and keep it from meandering. It also helps the writer see (and focus) on the details that will most strongly make his/her points. Lastly, it allows the storyteller to see what the ultimate point or goal of his/her story is and make more effective choices on how to get there.

If you’re a “discovery” writer, should you drop that and start using outlines? No! That’s not what I’m advocating. I’m of the opinion that whatever works for you is something that you should do more of it. I might suggest however, that once you’ve finished the discovery draft, to go back and rewrite it (heresy, I know) because you now know you’re point and what events in the story have led you to the point and you may be able to get there more effectively with another draft or two, but if it’s working, I say keep doing it. As always, however, if it isn’t working, then you might give outlining a try.

Here’s an example of several writers who would like to “fix” Star Wars and the story outlines provided. They are all really interesting and, even though there are elements that I don’t agree with or would do differently, if I could “fix” Star Wars, they still illustrate how a cohesive (and competent, maybe even compelling) story can be told through outlining. (There are some spoilers for the movies, so be warned if you’ve not yet seen them all.)

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft
    Next: First Draft

Writing Log = Finished The Independent!

Picture of an excited baby with its mouth agape with the caption in white lettering: "This is my super excited face"
Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/575475658618524560/

So this post is a little later than normal as I wanted to make sure that I actually completed the works that are listed in this post. However, I was able to get everything done and I’m very excited about it!

Finished The Independent (aka “my Space Truckers” story)

Yesterday evening, I finally finished The Independent which began its life as my “Space Truckers” project. This one has taken a long time to do (way too long), but I finally was able to get the handle on what I really wanted to do late last year and early this year and began to make serious headway on the story in January and February. After not working on it because of the trip to Boston and subsequent Spring Break and early Corona virus news, I finally was able to power through the rest of the story and finished off the story last night. Some facts about the story: It is currently 5,100 words long. I will be working to get that down as most markets have a (generally speaking) a 5,000 word limit. It is a “spaceship” story–the action happens on a spaceship in space and contains a space battle (my favorite type of story) and one that I feel is done way too seldom in Sci-Fi media. Lastly, it features a female character–I hope (as a male) I do a good job in creating a believable character (I have before–I’ve published two other stories where the protagonist was female), but time will tell.

So, what’s next: I’m going to let it lie fallow for a week (maybe more) and then I’m going to schedule a time with the MSTU Writing Center and ask a consultant to look over it (I may do this a couple of times–once for content & story construction and once for grammatical issues) and work on getting as compact as possible and then I should be sending it out to markets later this month or early next month. Huzzah!

Finished Rough Draft of “Project Arizona”

So, “Project Arizona” is one that I wrote a blog post on a while back. It is a Weird Western that has been kicking around in my mind lately, so I went ahead and wrote the “Rough Draft” for it. Like The Indpendent, I will go through multiple drafts honing it in (hopefully it won’t take as long to finish though).

There’s not too much more to say about it yet–after I finish the first draft I might reveal the “working” title of the story. I may do an Author’s Note when I get a little deeper into drafting, but right now, I’m more interested in finishing it than discussing it, so I’ll add it to my list of projects in the Signature line.

HawkeMoon = a Milestone

So, I went back and checked and HawkeMoon represents my 10th published short-story! I now have enough to do a short story collection (I may even do that if I can ever find the time/right publisher).

While HawkeMoon is overall my 14th publication (when you include my comic book story split into 3 parts, and my non-fiction article on writing), and 16th when you include my work for MTSU’s Off Center Journal, it is still significant as it represents double digits in a particular style of writing. Here’s to trying for triple digits next!

Well, that’s all I have! Have a great weekend!

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft
    Next: First Draft

The Problem with DLC (Downloadable Content)

A picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope in the desert looking out pensively with the captions in white lettering: VIDEOGAMES WERE ONCE SOLD COMPLETE . . . BEFORE THE DARK TIMES . . . BEFORE PAID DLC.
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For me, most (not all) additional Downloadable Content (DLC) for games that either adds on to the story or expands the game in some way just isn’t worth the purchase price. The value of it isn’t there. Usually, less than the cost of the base game, many developers skimp on either content or game design (sometimes both) as (rarely) the full team is invested in created this additional content. Akin to the Dr. Who “Minisodes,” these DLC packs are often much less than a full episode (game) in terms of characterization, missions, and overall structure of the game.

Assassin’s Creed II

I first noticed this problem in Assassin’s Creed II (AC 2) when I bought the “Missing Missions” for this pack. The conceit of the game is that you were learning about your ancestors life through the Animus, a machine that allowed you to relive the life of Ezio (your ancestor) and to play various “missions” around his life. Now all of these missions led you to the final chapter of the game–except, the game designers removed (or “scrambled” to keep with the game’s fiction) two or three missions and you had to purchase them later in order to play through them. I loved the game, so I didn’t wait until later, but bought them immediately and played through them during the course of my game–to simulate me going through ALL the missions without having to skip missions that had been “scrambled.”

Big mistake! These missions were some of the grindiest, unfun missions in the AC universe. From what I remember, one mission was super combat focused, but the other mission–oh boy, the other mission was a stealth mission that had a “no-spot” rule, meaning that if the guards spotted you, the mission was automatically failed. This was not how it was in the base game, nor was it a part of the AC universe until then. There was only one preferred way of completing the mission–where, up until this point, it had been up to the player’s discretion–sneak, do combat, or do a combination of both. In fact, these “grindy” play mechanics made their way into future AC games which helped to deteriorate subsequent games in the series’s popularity with customers and long-time fans. I almost stopped playing because of how unfun those DLC missions were, but I preservered and managed to earn the Platinum Trophy for the game–but I still remember those missions as the only thing (outside of collecting all those feathers) as negative experience in the game.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

This brings me AC Origins. The two DLCs were on sale for a fraction of the price recently, and–despite my better judgement, I went ahead and pulled the trigger and I’m playing through them now. I actually finished the first one, but I”m working on the second one as we speak. Have they gotten any better? In a word, no.

They do manage to keep the core mechanics of the original game, so that’s pretty nice. No game breaking design choices that are different from what happens in the base game. There’s more consistency between the base game and the DLC. No, my issue is with the story and the pacing of the new content. Most importantly, these are short–sure, I’m mostly focusing on the “main” story line and a couple of “side” missions here and there, but I’ve already beaten the game and Platinumed it–I don’t feel the need to do everything in the DLCs anymore as I’ve already done it all in the base game. However, the price I paid feels about right for the content and I would have felt “ripped off” had I purchased it for the original asking price. One thing they do is make the game more “vertical” meaning that you have to do more climbing (which takes longer than running or taking a mount) to get around. This extends (pads) the gameplay time, so that you think you’re getting more value. Secondly, they tamper with the narrative of the main game–instead of introducing new unique characters that are as inventive as they are in the main game, they (in the first DLC at least) change the outcome for a fairly important character in the base game. Not a fan.

Mass Effect 2

So, I’ve given two examples of games not getting DLC right, but Mass Effect 2 is the rare exception to that rule. The content for that game felt like it had been developed in conjunction with the original game (and while some might look askance at that–put it in the base game!), as long as it doesn’t change the tone of gameplay or seek to rewrite base story elements, I’m personally fine with it. However, even this content, as good as it was, still had flaws. I triggered the “penultimate” mission before doing the DLC and so, because I wanted to completely “wrap” up the game, I went and did the DLC first, not realizing that if you didn’t do the “final” mission right after triggering the “penultimate” mission, then you lost the ability to save certain “non-essential” members of your crew. This had never been an issue before–as long as you completed the missions correctly and had enough Paragon/Renegade points to settle “important” characters’ disputes, then the game did not penalize you for waiting to do a mission. And, not only did the game penalize you in this case, it also offered no “warning” that doing the DLC mission would affect how the “final” mission played out. So, even here, we see that DLCs have downsides. And I won’t even talk about the “crappy” DLCs for Mass Effect 3 or the cancelled planned DLCs for Mass Effect Andromeda.

So, for me, I find that DLCs are rarely worth it in terms of value–especially at full price. I only buy extra content now when it is massively discounted, but even then, I find that I’m often still disappointed in the extra content, rather than being excited about it and getting a chance to play more in my favorite game worlds.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Revising Section 1 (of 3)
    Deadline = February 29, 2020
  • Project Arizona (Fantasy Short Story–Weird West))
    Finished: Story Outline
    Next: Character Sketch
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • Ship of Shadows: Screenplay
    Finished: Script Outline (Rough Draft)
    Next: Script Outline (1st Draft)

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