A Business About Storytelling, Game Development, And Other Promises

Aside from the fanfiction I posted the other day in a previous post, it’s been yet another long while since I’ve posted on this Blog. Obviously, a lot has happened since I last wrote here so I will try to catch everyone up.

The LDEEP Workshop actually took another week longer than I’d originally thought. Now I am seeing the head of the program every Monday and Thursday. What we’re doing now is we are working on a plan of self-employment. It is going to be centered around two aspects: assisted storytelling, and the creation of some collaborative works. Basically the idea is that I will be helping other people with their writing, or telling their own stories while making my own with fellow artistic collaborators.

In retrospect, I’d been heading in this direction for quite some time even before LDEEP. Even before it had a name, even before I had a Patreon account, I knew this was something that I had to do. And if all goes well, I may even be able to get assistance for this. But it will take time and effort on my part. I am still not home free yet and, honestly, even when this becomes a reality I still won’t be.

There have been challenges even now. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I am doing the right thing or if someone as numerically challenged as myself has any right attempting to run a business. There had also been times when I was frustrated with LDEEP and how many of its workshops, while informative, didn’t really apply to my ultimate goals. And very recently I had to turn down a job offer that, while it might have given me some money, just wasn’t feasible for me due to distance and misunderstandings.

Yet these things have worked in my favour when I really think about them. I was having a lot of trouble articulating a good business plan. The head of our program told me to “make a story with numbers.” And I struggled with it. I admit, it slowed me down a lot. I wanted to create actual content. I wanted to keep writing on this Blog. I didn’t want to be bogged down by details. And I was looking for someone full time who could help with future administrative duties: to leave me with time to create.

But right now I am the only one that can make this happen. And I realized I was going about this all the wrong way. I’ve mentioned many times before that I have a learning disability: specifically in the realm of mathematics. So, one day after dealing with a lot of other issues, I realized that what I should be doing is writing out “the story” first and add the numbers, with assistance, later on. Basically, for lack of another better analogy, I am working on the thesis of the thing and gathering the research and evidence afterwards to back it up.

It was still work but I managed to create a first draft of a plan. And it is still, like everything I do, a work in progress. And I will definitely keep you posted once I finally make something a little more substantial to work with.

I have also been working on a collaborative game with a team of people who happen to also be made up of some of my childhood friends. And I have accomplished a lot. I have not only created a sample list of pre-generated character names and six factions, but also an extra seventh faction that I hope to use in a tutorial along with a creative event scenario. There is, like everything else, a lot more to do but I am pleased with mine — and my teammates’ — progress. So while I am not a programmer or a graphic artist, I am a writer for a game and so this is actually some game development on my part: which makes me really damned proud.

I also can’t wait to say more about the actual game itself, but I will wait on that until we have more done and when our team leader thinks it appropriate.

The graphic story collaboration I am making with Angela O’Hara is still happening, but we have both had to take time to deal with our respective workloads. But I know we are both still interested in its creation and I look forward to sharing that work as well.

So many promises now, I have to say. I feel like, for all the challenges and tribulations I’ve faced, I have been doing some good work. And that in itself is a reward. But I plan to do so much more: just as I also plan to share so much more with you, my faithful friends and readers.

Until next time.

Looking Outward

Changes and Collaborations

So last week was my Orientation Day for LDEEP: the government assistance program that will help me find some work appropriate to my skills. Starting tomorrow and for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be attending workshops from nine in the morning until the late afternoon.

Am I nervous? Yes. It’s been a while since I have had my time structured in this manner. To be honest, I would have preferred to keep more flexible hours. I am definitely not a morning person and, while it’s occasionally a lark to be up in the morning, I am much more of a night-owl. I do a lot of my thinking and writing at night.

I am used to keeping my own hours and, hopefully, I will be able to do so again with perhaps the added benefit of having excuses to go outside, socialize, and get a job that is appropriate for me. This is definitely going to take some getting used to with regards to my routine and I hope I will be able to ask the right questions and take note of advantages when I can.

Things are changing. But they are not all stressful: or at least not stressful in a bad way. I am getting another story published soon — which I will keep you posted on as I get more details — and I am actually working on another creative collaboration. This time I am working with some friends of mine on a video game. Again, I can’t go into too many details as we are still conceptualizing a lot of the world and its minutiae, but I am really excited about it.

Perhaps more than the potential of getting some pay of my part in the collaboration, I get to work with some people whom I’ve known since high school. I will be honest with you: I’ve looked forward to working with these friends of mine for years on a project that could go public or, indeed, any game project at all. We are all talented in our own ways and I know I will do my best to flesh out what we have.

When I am working with them, working on material for the game, I actually feel enthusiasm and a sense of purpose that I don’t get often. For a while now I’ve been working on critical articles or within the sandboxes of other established worlds. This time I am helping to make a world and its background. It’s that feeling of this is what we should be doing. This is what I should be doing. It is my hope that we will continue working on this project and that we will have something awesome to show the world: or at the very least to ourselves and our other friends.

And there are other things I am planning to do besides.

That is pretty much my most recent update. I’m not sure where I am going with all of this. We are just going to have to see. I hope that some of you will join me in the journey.

High School

After Hell, Other Dragons, Other People: Gaming Pixie’s She Who Fights Monsters

“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146

When last we left off in my article Life and Identity, Eden and Hell: The Twines of a Gaming Pixie, said Pixie left us in a second-person perspective hell of “You”: having left her penchant for placing us in the autobiographical of her Twine shoes and moving on to other worlds entirely.

But some things always come full-circle before revolving outward into a spiral.

swfm-title-final

Gaming Pixie writes a little bit about the origins behind why she made She Who Fights Monsters, this interactive combination of autobiography and fiction, far better than I ever could. If you want more information about that, read the previous link or look at her other posts on the subject on her developer’s Blog Gaming Pixie Games. This is not what I’m going to be focusing on.

Instead, I’m going to write about my impressions the basic plot and structure of the game, examine a bit of its creative evolution, and focus a bit on some of the game’s implications: especially with regards to its premise, its protagonist, and its ending. I will admit, right now, that I had a lot of trouble initially coming up with a way to write about She Who Fights Monsters. But it was Gaming Pixie herself who told me, when we last talked about the matter, to write about my own reactions to the game. There is something ironic about talking about the personal — about my feelings with regards to interacting with this game and its subject matter — in lieu of scrutinizing the autobiographical.

But in any case, do not read on if you don’t want to be exposed to potential triggers or spoilers. Reader’s discretion is advised.

It is no accident that this article begins with the above aphorism from Friedrich Nietzsche though, when the Alpha Demo for the game first came out, I had no idea this would even play a part in it. The Demo itself was called Fighting the Monster: which took place on Day One of the game’s chronology.

The story premise presented in this Demo translated over to the Beta Demo — called She Who Fights Monsters — and the subsequent game of the same name. You, the player, control the sprite of Jenny: an eight year girl who must survive the presence of a monster in her home for no less than seven days.

Of course, it becomes clear that Jenny’s battle is not merely with one monster.

This distinction is all the difference between two ideas embodied by the Alpha and Beta Demos. I will admit, right now, that I thought it would have been easier for Gaming Pixie to remain with, and work from, the spirit and aesthetics of Fighting the Monster. But make no mistake: both of them came from the same idea.

Let me try to articulate this as best I can. The overt antagonist, the monster, in She Who Fights Monsters is Jenny’s alcoholic father. Fighting the Monster, the Alpha Demo, was simpler. It was crude and more elemental for it. For me, it felt a lot more like a generic RPG: especially when you look at Jenny’s room and the imaginary haven inside her closet. But there was an old, faded texture to even these safe childhood places: like that of an old memory. The darker places, however, were dingier. Grittier. It set the tone of a stereotypical, old and dilapidated home where dysfunction and abuse are almost always typically depicted. And even here, it still felt like the aesthetic shell of an old 16-bit role-playing game.

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And the monster is clearly Jenny’s father. If you judge the context by the Demo alone, he is the threat that Jenny must avoid. He breaks through all of her childhood illusions of magic, fairness, and innocence through cursing at her. Her Tears and her Innocence do not save her in the simulated turn-based RPG battle. In this one Demo alone, her father’s words feel like a slap in the face but the atmosphere of this world has been building to it. Even so, with Jenny’s mother’s revelation at the end of the Demo, that her father is an alcoholic, it sets a straightforward tone for the game and makes the Demo itself feel self-contained and continuous.

But Gaming Pixie never meant her game to be straightforward. So in the process of changing the game’s name, she also developed its aesthetics in the She Who Fights Monsters Beta Demo that would inform the rest of her game. And I will admit: it felt jarring at first.

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Gone are the dinginess and grit and the fading of peeling memory on the walls. You find yourself with Jenny in a much more colourful and vibrant world. Her toys are brighter. The details around her stand out and the temple that is her imaginary place in her closet is grander and more elegant. Even her home looks more comforting: as much as any middle class home made by 16-bit pixels. Everything, even the nightmares, is vital and alive with colour: as much as any child’s world is at that age.

swfm-room-final

I feel it was designed this way: to make the player feel safe before immediately and brutally introducing them to the world of abuse and its effects on Jenny’s highly impressionable and figurative mind. And, this time around, when the trauma of encountering her verbally abusive father passes she finds herself in her room and her mother entering without even a single explanation. It was most likely made to function as an interactive preview in order create more ambiguity: so that the player could gradually, through the rest of the coming six days, see past the daydreams, imagination, and nightmares of a child to the adult reality of an alcoholic parent.

In some ways, it is even worse this way: to depict a normal childhood and have it impinged upon by the violence of an unknown and terrifying adult world, and the understanding that it will change Jenny’s life. It is a real life horror story of an ordinary world shattered by something aberrant and always lurking under a façade of normalcy.

I felt that both Demos were almost dress rehearsals for the psychodrama that was to come. The title itself says a lot: in that there is more than one kind of monster at work, and as such there are consequences for facing them.

So now we come to the real She Who Fights Monsters. The graphics are further improved — with even greater attention to detail — and you can explore Jenny’s entire house. Day One happens pretty much like it did in the Demos: with one interesting exception. Gaming Pixie ends off Day One from the part depicted in the Alpha Demo where Jenny’s mother flat-out tells her about her father’s alcoholism: the part that did not exist in the Beta Demo. And the scene where Jenny goes out to get some cookies becomes a background reminiscent of strange organic Giger-aesthetics of the horror game Yume Nikki or the Earthbound Giygas battle.

swfm-darkworld02

You, as the player, now know what you are facing and you must play through the remaining days. Yet there is one more thing that you need to consider.

The Memory Bloom is a giant flower that you find past the Temple in the closet. It didn’t exist in the Alpha Demo and I almost missed it in the Beta until Gaming Pixie pointed it out in one of her developer’s blog posts. In the Demo the Bloom itself tells you that it will only become important in the main game and, make no mistake, it is crucial. You will get Locked Memories throughout the game and it is critical to interact — or not interact — with this flower. If you do, you will also realize that not all of Jenny’s memories and experiences with her father are bad. In a lot of ways, it makes it even worse: in that these positive moments and traits in an abuser often make a victim feel bad in attributing negative emotions to that person. It makes the situation all the more complicated than simply Fighting the Monster. What you decide to do will determine Jenny’s future.

swfwm Memory

After all, it took Seven Days, in the Christian New Testament, for God to create the world and its inhabitants and She Who Fights Monsters demonstrates that seven days can create an entire human being depending on the choices that you make, and how Jenny responds to the monster in front of her and the ones forming inside of her head.

There is a quote often attributed to the writer G.K. Chesterton which states that “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” However, there is another quote, from the fantasy and horror writer Stephen King that is also equally true, that “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.”

These are both words to bear in mind as you progress: when on the Seventh Day even the illusion of childhood safety will be ripped away and Jenny will have to start on the path to self-actualization — to adulthood — far sooner than she should. For me, that and my scary and heartbreaking decision to unlock her Final Memory were the hardest parts of this game: to deal with them and to determine what Jenny should do beyond it.

Do you remember when I said that in some ways She Who Fights Monsters is a subversion of a 16-bit RPG? This still holds true even past the Alpha Demo: but in an even more subtle way. I mean, you already understand from Day One that any attempt to fight the game like it is a turn-based battle will end in failure. You already know that not fighting will end in failure. The fact that the game narrative text boxes are in third person-limited perspective, always referring to “Jenny,” “her,” and not “you”: the distance only provides you some illusion of safety.

The perspective is perhaps designed to make you feel that disassociation that a child facing ongoing emotional trauma and abuse would experience: only made more jarring during Jenny’s first-person interludes. These narrative perspectives are very notable departures from Gaming Pixie’s previous Twine-based games: not unlike Christine Love’s don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story where you are not the character, or even acknowledged as a player. This simply isn’t your story, even if you do influence it.

And when the game does get to the point where it feels like a turn-based RPG battle? Be careful — be very careful — because the thing you need to remember is the end of the first “battle” with Jenny’s father, particularly the words, “Nobody wins.”

The subversion goes deeper when you also consider that there will come a Day where Jenny is hiding in her room and there are clues around. They are extremely clever elements of potential foreshadowing and they are a nice contrast to the beginning of the first Day. For me, the freedom of exploration in Day One — of finding the bathroom, the kitchen, living room, basement, and crawl space —  seemed to set up the beginning of a horror survival game, of knowing all the hiding spots and thinking you have discovered potential secrets only to make it purely about the psychological and the inner world of demons. Aside from the clear mindscape influence of the Silent Hill series, this game is reminiscent of the game Eversion in that sense: only instead of the aesthetics and gameplay changing over time from something brighter into something grimmer, it is a dynamic that goes back and forth between states of atmosphere — always in Jenny’s head, because we are all seeing this from Jenny’s head — until a final decision is made.

When I first heard about the concept behind what would become She Who Fights Monsters, I was reminded of another game based on a child creating an imaginary world to deal with an alcoholic parent called Papo & Yo. Yet aside from the fact that both games have autobiographical elements, child protagonists, and monsters for fathers that hurt them even as they love them there are obvious differences. Papo & Yo takes place in a fantastic equivalent of a favela –a Brazilian slum — and in all realities it is three-dimensional, while despite the aesthetics of its Alpha Demo She Who Fights Monsters takes place in a normal looking middle-class home. Monster, the Papo & Yo protagonist’s enemy is sometimes his companion when he isn’t in a rage, while it is clear that despite some good memories Jenny’s father is never really her friend nor does he help her in her game. While Papo & Yo is more distinctly a puzzle and deadly hide-and-seek game, She Who Fights Monsters is indeed a story that you mostly observe: sometimes very helplessly. And, of course Quico is a young boy and Jenny is a young girl.

You might think that the latter distinctions mean very little and indeed, they are both children placed into situations that no child should ever have to deal with: confronting their parents as enemies. But then there is the elephant in the room to consider. In a segment of her article regarding Gaming Pixie’s epic Twine game Eden, Soha Kareem observes that the former is “an accidentally political game.”

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The fact is, Jenny is not only female but she is also “a person of colour.” It can’t be stated enough that, at least to my knowledge, just how rare and unique it is to be playing a game with a young Black girl as its protagonist: in her own story. In a medium that is still struggling to represent different identities in its games, it is definitely something to take note of. However, I am not qualified to talk about “race” or its implications: and how the race and class of Jenny’s family affects her story, if at all, is a matter I will leave to more capable writers than myself. Indeed, this matter seems more “incidental” than “accidental” and Gaming Pixie herself is more focused on the situation and survival of Jenny as opposed to her background.

But there is something else I’d like to note that Soha Kareem also states. In her writing on Gaming Pixie’s Eden, she points out that “The game’s endings and achievements are determined by your karmic choices.” She goes on to explain how, in Eden, how Gaming Pixie subverts the video game trope of the protagonist needing to manipulate their love interest as an object into a relationship by making it so that the player must genuinely act like “a good person” in order to gain that level of trust. The point is, Gaming Pixie is both sneaky and honest in the sense that your choices have clear moral consequences. Even in She Who Fights Monsters, depending on what you do with the Memory Bloom and what you choose to remember, some paths will be open to you, some closed, and some will exist only for one tenuous moment of conscience.

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I won’t spoil the endings for you, but I will say this. When I play a game, particularly one with this kind of detail, I like to get all of its information so that I can actually make an informed decision. Even so, remember what I mentioned about being careful when you find yourself in a combat situation in this game? Well, if you make a certain choice and you like to be violent and go all Sith you should know that, if you do, there are consequences. You may become the monsters that you are fighting, the demons in your mind, and it might well lead … to a whole other game entirely.

So please, download Gaming Pixie’s She Who Fights Monsters — which is supported by donationware — and determine how this horror story ends, and where others might well begin.

Processing REBEL JAM.exe

A little while ago, there was a game design document called GAME_JAM, an interactive process and living document that was hijacked by marketing directors and, ultimately, abandoned by its own collaborators when the proposed program threatened great and unacceptable corruption of personal space and creator integrity. GAME_JAM was ultimately Ctrl + Alt + Deleted and its game design document, as much as kind of commercial and social contract analogue can be, returned to the drawing board.

At the end of the day, GAME_JAM was considered to be a worthy concept but its execution was flawed: a special glimpse into the process of creation inside a game jam with YouTube Let’s Players marred by an industrial bigotry and lack of understanding as to what a game jam actually is, and changed into a failed attempt at a generic reality show. I myself honestly thought that after everything that happened, the original idea would sit on that drawing board and gather dust.

Zoe Quinn decided otherwise. She decided to create REBEL JAM.

At first, this really surprised me. Zoe Quinn was one of the participants, or collaborators inside of, the failed GAME_JAM. Not only did she sign a contract in which she can’t talk about her experiences, but according to those who hadn’t signed the contract she was one of the female developers who felt the most offended by the bigotry that found its way into the tense and unpleasant situation: so much so that despite the contract she was one of those instrumental in having the participants walk away from the project altogether.

But I should have known better. Even in her article detailing what she learned from her experience, Zoe Quinn states:

My most tangible takeaway is probably this: I want to run a game jam. Not now, but after pax east and after I’ve recharged a bit. I’d like to find charismatic Let’s Play people, a couple of video cameras, a huge + cheap rentable house, and a group of indies. I’d love to have the LPers do what they’re so often so brilliant at and bridge the gap between the games and the audience, and do it super low-tech, low-budget, documentary style. Capture the inspiration, the hard work, the 3am delirium and the dumb jokes that come with it. Show people how we all band together and support each other through the deadline. That’s what I want to show the world about game jams. That’s the ambassador I’d rather be.

And so PAX East has passed. And, evidently, Zoe Quinn has recharged as well. In fact, she seems to have been at work on this concept for some time now. She continues the process of working on the GDD of REBEL JAM: a Return of the Indie counterpoint towards The Industry Strikes Back that inadvertently came from A New Jam.

Another bad, if somewhat geeky analogy aside, the concept behind REBEL JAM’s funding is the idea that this game jam will be “sponsored” by crowdfunding as opposed to corporations or industries.   Zoe Quinn and those like her seem to be in the process of making some excellent additions to this living document that we will be allowed to see: and perhaps participate in.

In my GAME_JAM Ctrl + Alt + Delete article, I mentioned that–if nothing else–GAME_JAM was a game and a design that taught its collaborators how to create, and how not to create game jams.

This GDD is back on the drawing board.

REBEL JAM. exe is now processing.

A World of Darkness Closes Its Eyes

During the period of 1991 to 2004, the White Wolf Gaming Studio created The World of Darkness.

It was a dark urban fantasy, or cyberpunk near-future version of the modern world, in the form of a table-top role-playing game. In this world you could play as a vampire struggling with your inhumanity, a mage discovering the esoteric patterns underlying reality, a werewolf fighting to regain environmental equilibrium, a fae being navigating strange and treacherous faerie courts and urban decay, or a wraith exploring the realms of the afterlife. And these are only a few prominent examples of what to expect in the World of Darkness: a role-playing game created for mature players with disturbing and, conversely, intelligent and philosophical themes.

Now imagine all of this made into a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.

It’s not too much of a stretch to consider. Crowd Control Productions Games (or CCP Games), along with White Wolf, were planning to take Vampire: The Masquerade and use its emphasis on in-character or player politics to create an interesting dynamic with the rest of the dark world as a backdrop. Essentially, you as the player would know what it would be like to be an individual vampire attempting to interact with and understand undead existence amid the mortal world. It very much sounded like a multi-player expansion of the Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines game.

Unfortunately, CCP has been forced to cancel this project that had been in the making since 2006 and CCP Atlanta is currently in a process of staff layoffs and internal reassignments within the company. So the World of Darkness seems to have been foiled in its attempt to spread throughout the Internet. Perhaps that is just as well. MMORPGs tend to lose cohesive story development and meaning, becoming a repetitive item-drop and annual enemy killing cycle over time. Of course, I could definitely be wrong and I admit that perhaps there were different rule mechanics in this game project that might have been different from generic MMORPG game-play.

Who knows: they might have even expanded on it and added other denizens from the World of Darkness as well in a very cohesive and well-rounded manner.

I suppose we will never really know for sure now. Above is some of the first in-game footage. Tell us what you think.

GAME_JAM Ctrl + Alt + Delete

Imagine you are making a game. So, for the purposes of this crude analogy, think of yourself as a game developer.

Now, you have a game design document or GDD: a document made as an outline for a team in order to put a specific kind of game together. You, or a group of people supporting you, can add different additions, adjustments and clauses for the purpose of customizing your GDD and expanding it into a game that is your own.

All right, now imagine your GDD, the source that you are working from, is a Game Jam. And what is a Game Jam? A Game Jam can be seen as a space where various people–graphic artists, audio makers, programmers, and even writers–come together and with a prompt, or no prompt at all, make a game of some kind in a small amount of time. More often than not, groups of developers and creators pair themselves up before the event and have known each other for a while: creating close-knit relationships with each other ranging from working together all the way to the point of friendship. The idea of a Game Jam is to have a small window of time in which you not only get to experience spontaneous creativity in an inclusive and friendly environment but also potentially reaffirm relationships and even make new friends and contacts with a game-making community.

Now, bear in mind that every Game Jam is different. It either has a different theme, or it’s sponsored by external sources, or it is run from the houses of friends who decide to get together and make games while socializing and sharing ideas. While some Jams can theoretically have anyone of any experience level, including newbies, as participants other Jams require creators to have prior expertise before attending. One such group of the latter, with the assistance of YouTube companies such as Polaris decided to create a special Jam that could illustrate, to a larger viewing audience, exactly how some of this “spontaneous creative process” might work and, hence, demystify and even fascinate people with how ultimately a Game Jam can work.

So keep thinking of this idea of a reality-television Game Jam, called GAME_JAM, as a GDD. Imagine that some marketing directors, having never made or played a video game before, decided to add their own additions and clauses into the GDD and overrule the original creators (which, unfortunately, is a common occurrence within the industry at least). Think of these additions as analogous to the contracts with GAME_JAM participants that, if signed, would force them to–among other things–allow themselves to be “misrepresented for dramatic purposes” ala “reality-television,” not be able to promote their own independent work based on the show during this time, and always having to promote their sponsors such as Mountain Dew to the point of needing to drink it in front of the cameras that were everywhere save for bathrooms and bedrooms.

Think of what the presence of “dramatic misrepresentation” can do as well. Basically in this case, it attempts to take the spirit of cooperative gaming, and turn it into a player verses player situation with neither warning nor consent. I think, even if you aren’t a game developer, it can be safe to say that this structure is jarring and very self-contradictory: to the point where even if the clauses are tweaked, the original flaw in the messy structure that was the original conflict still remains.

But these elements in themselves didn’t necessarily mean that GAME_JAM would end. Many of the participants and group leaders such as Zoe Quinn the creator of Depression Quest, Davey Wreden of The Stanley Parable and others were and are creative enough, when motivated, to work with production: to collaborate in order to make a more unique “game” as it were.

But now think about this already inherently unstable game structure which already compromises the spirit of open space of creativity due to a certain degree of production micromanaging.

And then, something bad happens. And this something bad occurs long after the Game Design Document of GAME_JAM becomes a program in its own right.

It comes in the form of one of the more boisterous and obnoxious market directors. This Trojan virus in consultant’s clothing as it were, decides to place utilize and push for Digital rights management software or DRM that compromises the operating system that the game will be run on. It may have even seemed like productive software at the time and helped GAME_JAM and its sponsors. Even the production companies know that this particular form of DRM, in the form of one Matti Lesham of Protagonist’s attitudes, is potentially harmful but they have always tolerated it: a creative consultation program that is really a commercial program that gets clicked on and fills your computer with incessant ad ware, and intrusive spyware and worse: virulent malware.

It is this malware; composed of deceptive queries such as “Do you think you’re at an advantage because you have a pretty girl on your team?” and “Do you think the teams with women on them are at a disadvantage?” that completely corrupts the original GDD’s ideal of an open, safe, and inclusive space of creation.

And this was what ultimately caused GAME_JAM to crash.

And when it comes down to it, its participants let it crash.

Perhaps anyone else would have let the computer downstairs languish with its offensive pop-ups, its hostile injection of lag between creative processes, incessant ads and its corrupted programming except none of these other people would have been game developers or game makers. More specifically, none of these people would have been professionals.

And GAME_JAM was filled with independent developers and makers–friends and professionals of quality art–that didn’t like to deal with having their space impinged upon, or being told what to do, or dealing with someone attempting to create conflict through antiquated, misogynist hate-speech spam. Perhaps a home owner might ignore the virus on the computer they are forced to use, but a programmer would go after it and delete it mercilessly. What GAME_JAM ultimately became as a result of all the above was an unplayable mess and an extended and non-consensual trouble-shoot. The system that was GAME_JAM, even with the overt flaws removed in the form of Matti Lesham’s dismissal, was still too corrupted and buggy to prevent anything like the contradictions that allowed the infection to begin with: a whopping $400, 000 assessment.

Nevertheless, this mistake of a game taught its players and creators something. It made them go back and look at the original Game design document that was intended from the start. And they looked at it. They really looked at it, and themselves, and what they were capable of. It taught them how not to create a game and how to make a game–or a game jam–that hearkened back to its GDD: one of mutual cooperation, acceptance, friendship, and an intolerance for conformity and bigotry. GAME_JAM might have become unplayable but those involved with it will hopefully not only play other, better games but even allow themselves to make them: with everyone on-board for its conceptual phase.

Back to the drawing board Game Design Document.

For more nuanced information with regards to what happened with GAME_JAM please check out Jared Rosen’s Indie Statik article How the Most Expensive Game Jam in History Crashed and Burned in a Single Day. He was a games journalist that documented what happened at the event. The bottom of his article has links to other participants’ perspectives on the event as well. You can also look at Rami Ismail’s Polygon article A warning about contracts from the sidelines of the most expensive game jam in history and Colin Campbell’s How ‘Game Jam,’ an indie game dev reality show, collapsed on its first day of filming for good measure.

La-Mulana 2 Still Has More Stories to Tell

When last I wrote about La-Mulana 2, its Kickstarter Campaign met nearly half of its stated $200,000 minimum goal. Well, not only has it reached it’s goal, it has started to meet its stretch goals.

It has been an interesting experience watching this particular Kickstarter development, while also being involved in at least some of that growth. I got to watch as NIGORO and Playism Games added their own unique animated sprites and adjusted their stretch goal tiers accordingly with input from their fans. Even as they took the time to give their page its own unique pixilated aesthetics, I’ve seen them re-organize their campaign page’s information and the order of their Updates. But I think what really struck me is the tremendous sense of community that I gleaned from, and to some extent even experienced, from being involved in this particular Kickstarter.

I mean, just look at both of these Fan Art Updates. This is one other very unique element of the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter: the fact that the creators and their supporters actually encourage and utilize a Fan Art Update to promote their world and the game that they want to create. NIGORO and Playism have also encouraged fans to make their own memes and advertisements for the game. And when there were some concerns expressed by fans in the comments section of with regards to the appropriateness of  some of Lumisa Kosugi’s unlockable and otherwise stunning costumes on the grounds of potential gender and cultural stereotyping, the creators responded and seemed more than willing to look into the matter. Basically, it seems to be the fans that get to determine many of the directions in which La-Mulana 2 will go: as is, and should be the case with crowdfunded projects. It also shouldn’t be too surprising.

After all, NIGORO itself began as GR3 Project which, in turn was and still is, an indie or independent video game development team. The very first La-Mulana, before its remake on Windows, WiiWare and Steam, was an 8-bit freeware game dedicated to the spirit of hard but rewarding vintage era games: especially those made for the MSX. The team has always wanted to see how far they can push the boundaries of the 2D game-scrolling medium. As such, it has always relied on a strong fan-base of even stronger-minded and enthusiastic fans to bring it to the point where it is now. In fact, one point that the Kickstarter itself has made in one of its updates is that while they could easily get sponsorship from other companies to meet their Kickstarter goals, gaining money directly from their fans will allow for NIGORO to maintain the degree of creative control over its work that it so desires.

One thing that has always struck me about La-Mulana is how rich its world truly is and how many stories can be told in it. So the good news is that they have met their baseline goal in what has proven to be their experiment and learning experience with Kickstarter and getting us fans involved. The bad news is that, with Kickstarter, they only have three days to fund the rest of their stretch goals. And what are some of these stretch goals?

If they receive $230,000, they will include a game mode called “Father’s Diary” in which further story is added to the game: to a point where the events between La-Mulana 1 and 2 are filled.  And if they receive $350,000 they will add “Character Stories”: in which every time you complete the game you will get to start over again with a new character, interact with a whole new story and even switch between characters. And while these are definitely my favourite stretch goals, there are many more if you check out the Kickstarter.

Yet while the bad news is that it seems very unlikely that they will meet all of their stretch goals with Kickstarter, especially in three days, the good news is that they are already opening up a Pledge Through PayPal option in order to keep reaching for those heights of game development.  So please, if you haven’t already, please check out this Kickstarter and follow the adventures of Lumisa Kosugi as she treks her own path through the ancient, terrifying and wondrous world of La-Mulana.

In fact, you can do more that simply look through a Kickstarter or even pass it along to others. As the following new Big Update has revealed, you can watch a video of the La-Mulana 2 game demo above and even download and play it for free. How cool is that?

A Surprise Post Appears! La-Mulana, an Age, and Solo Jamming all Entwined.

I have been meaning to write here for a very long time. So I am going to write behind my own designated schedule and wave hello at all of you.

So I am still alive and I am hoping to write here again a lot more often now. For those of you don’t know, I went on something of a hiatus to finish a short story that may have me see actual print: as in something actually published in print in addition to my poem in the art book Klarissa Dreams. That is all I can really about that at the moment, but please stay tuned.

In the meantime, however, I have been busy with other things as well. So where do I even begin?

Well, I participated in the Unwritten RPG Kickstarter Campaign. I essentially made an Age for them. In case you don’t know, Unwritten is a table-top RPG based on the universe of Myst: in which you must go through several Descriptive and Linking Books that connect to other worlds. The D’Ni civilization figured out a way to write Books that allowed people to link to other worlds or gradations of a particular world: or Ages as they are called. I read the books and played two of the games in my formative years and for about a decade I had an idea for an Age and a people.

There were some changes I had to make, but what resulted is pretty impressive based on a creative collaboration with the team. I can’t wait for it to come out so I can show people that I was part of the Guild of Writers and I finally made my own Age. My nineteen year old self would be proud of what the thirty-one year old me has become capable of doing: at least to that regard.

I also admit one other thing. So you know the game I vowed never to play? Well, I am playing La-Mulana now. In fact, very soon the La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter will be making more Fan Art Updates and my Twine story The Treasure of La-Mulana will be featured in one of them. I will be on the look out for that and at some point I will link that update to all of you. It’s funny. I have gotten to know quite a few people through this game and it is perhaps one of the few sources of real community that I’ve felt in a really long time, if not ever. I am not a game-designer in the programming sense. I am a writer. Of course, Christine Love herself said the same thing and look at the places she is at now. Granted, she has programming knowledge and I don’t. But that’s ok.

In fact, I hit another milestone relatively recently. I attended the 2014 Toronto Global Game Jam. As some of you know I participated in the event last year, but armed with a basic understanding of Twine, I registered as a Solo Jammer and completed my first Twine game as such. I go into a little more detail about that on my G33kPron article Experiences from the 2014 Toronto Global Game Jam, but given what this Blog is about I wanted to talk a little shop about my game.

The Looking Glass was an experiment. After my Treasure of La-Mulana fanfic, I realized I could tell an extensive story with Twine, and use the hyperlinking transitions to control how much text the reader sees, and how much I wanted to pace the narrative. My Haunted Twine was an earlier attempt at this, but it was a lot clunkier and it still has issues that I need to address in future works. But I wanted to add more of an interactive element besides clicking on words this time around.

In addition, I was following a person’s experiences with a particular game online and, as my brain often works, I combined a few ideas together and came up with a concept and a few notes that you can see in all of their natural idiosyncratic handwritten glory down below.

I had a choice between this and a game about a serial killer. I was at first happy with neither of these concepts as I wanted to make something very personal and me for this Jam, but when I realized that my version of a “choose your own adventure” Twine game about my experience at the Jam itself would not be good enough at this stage in my development, and not really feeling the killing thing by the second official day of the 48-hour Jam I went with my original, very complex yet simply elegant idea that I should have taken more than two days to do. I may create more games like this one in the near future. In fact, I may be personally showcasing this one at the Toronto Global Game Jam Arcade in April. We shall see.

So now that I have at least four working Twine games or stories, I decided to expand a branch of Mythic Bios to contain them. You can find it on the menu bar above or click here on this link. I thought I would only make two relatively big Twine novels, but it seems my brain had, and needed, other plans. Perhaps sometime in the near future I will see what will be done with those.

And seriously ladies, gentlemen and other sentient beings, this is it for now. As I said before, I hope to be writing here more often again and I have some plans, as always. I have a few posts that are overdue and I want to fee more time to explore while continuing some of the work that I have been cultivating in my long self-exile. Poor January only had one post. Let’s see how many posts February will have as result shall we? 🙂

La-Mulana 2

Oh and before I go, please support NIGORO and Playism’s La-Mulana 2 Kickstarter Campaign. The universe of La-Mulana is both an archaeologist’s and a gamer’s dream and worst nightmare: it will challenge your ingrained assumptions about gameplay and mechanics. It also has a really nice unfolding story and a quirky character about it that few other games I’ve seen can match. So please check it out. You will not be disappointed and we might get to unlock some goodies without the spikes.

Mostly. Err …

Take care everyone.

Experiences from the 2014 Toronto Global Game Jam

The 2014 Toronto Global Game Jam last weekend was definitely an event to be remembered.

The TGGJ, which is the Global Game Jam’s location in Toronto, was held at the George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology. We took up the fifth and sixth floors of the college where its Digital Media & Gaming Incubator is situated.  The GGJ is an event held all around the world, where teams are challenged to make a complete game in 48 hours. Think about that: we programmers, sound designers, graphic artists and writers had only two days to make fully functional games. Bear in mind that I am a writer and I have little to no programming experience and that I only really got to learn Twine, a text-based hyper-linking free bit of software, only a few months ago (and even now I only know how to use the basics).

We spent the first part of the Jam finding our assigned computer work rooms. I actually deposited my belongings, including my sleeping bag, into the spare classroom on the sixth floor. While it is discouraged for the most part, according to the event organizers Randy Orenstein and Troy Morrissey, I decided to sleep where my work would be (as I did last year, when I decided to try out this event for the first time without even the knowledge of Twine and hoping to find some people in need of a writer).

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About 300 Jammers registered and participated in the Jam itself. After settling in, we were eventually called down to learn this year’s game theme.  Every year the Jam gets a different theme to work with: which is, essentially, the prompt which we were going to shape our games around.

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The theme of this year’s Game Jam was, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”

That is a pretty open-ended theme, isn’t it? So I wrote it on one of my business cards and went upstairs.

TGGJ 14 Grab Bag

Earlier, at our assigned computer workstations, we were given gift bags. These bags had a variety of candy bars and snacks, mostly to maintain energy, but they also had a schedule for the events of the next two days as well as a schedule of when we were to upload our games onto the Global Game Jam site.

Contents of TGGJ 14 Grab Bag

This was, more or less, a similar format to how last year’s Toronto Global Game Jam worked. There were, however, some differences. For instance, while this year also had its Team Jammers and Solo Jammers (pre-established designer groups and solitary game-makers), there were two additions that didn’t exist last year. The first was “Team Random.”  Team Random essentially was a group of people who didn’t have teams and were looking to collaborate with people at the event. Last year, I was in Team Random, though we were not named as such and there were much fewer of us. I actually like the fact that this year the organizers actually went out of their way during announcements to ask who was looking for teammates and they seemed to have a more organized structure in mind for dealing with that. Last year, as I said, I didn’t even know how to use Twine and there was some anxiety there at the time.

The second addition this year was the Floaters. Floaters were an assortment of independent programmers, sound designers and artists that were either free to join other teams, give them advice, or even contribute some of their expertise to certain parts of other people’s projects. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to use any of their skills, though I did talk with a few, as I basically started my project solidly after the Friday introductions.

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On the Friday I had written up a considerable amount of notes, but I still wasn’t sure what I was doing. I almost switched away from the idea I had made so many notes for but I was stuck. The fact of the matter was that I had a story in mind that was pretty complex and a challenge to make. But by the middle of Saturday I had a decision to make and so I began writing out my story.

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I wrote it directly into the Twine boxes that you can see right here.

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And so, from roughly 3 pm to 12 pm on the following Sunday I wrote out and built my Twine story while socializing at times and drinking a whole lot of tea and sugar generously donated by Starbucks. There was a raffle for some cool free stuff (we got a ticket in our grab bags and, no, I didn’t win anything) and the session finished off with the announcement of  a wedding having occurred between the duo that made up Team: “I’m a Pretty Princess” (who actually came back and continued their work) and me having finished my first ever Solo Game Jam (I was the sole member of “Team Eldritch”).

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The Global Game Jam encourages Play Parties to showcase all the games that were created during the event along with their creators. Last year, the Toronto Global Game Jam had an Arcade and there is going to be another one this summer as well. I know I will be there with my “choose your own adventure” text game which you can find right here on the GGJ site:  The Looking Glass. This year the Global Game Jam site extended the time we had to upload our submissions. It is an improvement over the first attempt that I linked on G33kPr0n months ago and I hope to keep exploring this world of creation and community.

And you had better believe I will be doing this again next year.

Matthew K TGGJ 14

Photo Credit: Uber Events and Promotions

You can find more of Uber Events and Promotions‘ TGGJ Group Portraits at this flickr account.

Correction: The GGJ (the Global Game Jam) is an event held all around the world. The TGGJ (the Toronto Global Game Jam) is local in Toronto.

La-Mulana 2 is an Answer to the Question

“What if games had continued to evolve – but stayed in 2D?”

This is both a question asked by the Japanese developer NIGORO and the impetus behind their intricate masterpiece: the video game La-Mulana. They and their director, Takumi Naramura, consider La-Mulana a “Ruins Exploration Archaeological action game” though that may also be a euphemism for a “puzzle, trap and treasure with epic battles and quirky characters game.” Actually, La-Mulana is often classified under “Metroidvania”: a genre of 2D platformer game that puts a great emphasis on exploration, complex mysteries, hidden secrets, and challenges that sometimes require excellent hand-eye coordination or the cultivation of such. La-Mulana itself is a game that was created by Naramura, lead programmer Takayuki Ebihara and programmer/sound designer Houryuu Samejima’s love for vintage games on the old MSX that challenged players:  placing them into the middle of the chaos with almost no hand-holding, but making them earn their progress and gain a sense of accomplishment–or exhaustion–through doing so.

La-Mulana was originally a freeware game published independently by GR3 Project (before it became NIGORO) in Japan on Microsoft Windows based on these principles, and on the nostalgia of difficult 8-bit games, and was then remade as a 16-bit game with a few more additions for WiiWare, the PlayStation Vita, and Windows in 2011 and finally released on Steam in 2013. It has an arguably small fan-base, but I suspect it is only continuing to grow based on its wide acclaim. The premise of La-Mulana is that you play as an archaeologist named Lemeza Kosugi who regularly competes with his older archaeologist father Shawn for fame and is lured to the ruined temple of La-Mulana to supposedly find the origin of all life, and its treasure. And then it ends and it all seems to be over: even in the remake. But it still leaves you with questions.

Then NIGORO announced that they were working on a sequel: La-Mulana 2.

For a while, there was only the information that the main character would be Lemeza’s daughter and that the setting seemed to take place in a Nordic-themed dungeon. There was even a brief trailer for La-Mulana 2 and a few interviews with Naramura, but nothing more.

However, more information has been revealed since: not the least of which being the fact that La-Mulana 2 is being promoted and funded on Kickstarter. The game is being promoted as a Kickstarter Project by Playism Games, a company that is helping to translate La-Mulana 2 for its English fan-base, and also publishing both Japanese and English versions of the game. So far, from the time this article is being written, La-Mulana 2 has met a little over half of its $200,000 goal. NIGORO itself has a lot of plans with regards to where they will take this game should they meet, or even exceed, their goals. If you check out their Kickstarter, you will see all of their plans and the potential treasures that you yourself might get on should you be interested. I will say, however, that while La-Mulana 2 could be played and appreciated on its own, knowledge of the first game might keep you from discovering too many spoilers at this time. So if you are a gamer with a love of 8 to 16-bit sprites and synthesized music, with good hand-eye reflexes and a masochistic streak that likes to see a story gradually unfurl the more you suffer, or progress, you might want to consider backing this game.

That said however, if nostalgia is pain for the loss of one’s sense of home or the past and the aching hope of finding it again, NIGORO and La-Mulana is attempt to find that place again and create new memories and possibilities. For while the world of La-Mulana, with its dangerous secrets and ever-present mysteries, might have been based on MSX games such as The Maze of Galious, it seems as though the developer wants to take its own question to heart: continuing to take 2D from a medium, to a genre and back again to a medium with more complexity, depth and potential.

I myself am eager to see just how far their explorations will take us.