Friday, March 31, 2017

The Near Horizon: April 2017

Well, March was kind of a mixed bag. Some of it was nice, some of it sucked and, surprise, surprise, I didn't get as much done as I'd have liked. But that's probably redundant at this point. Anyway, looking forward to April! Let's get to why below.

Obsidian Productions

Okay, so, I didn't like that one-week cycling model at all. It just felt like too much time went by between updates for my fan fics and it was a real pain to keep myself from gravitating back towards them and instead work on the other things. So, new schedule! I'm just going to keep alternating The DOOM Chronicles and Gathering Darkness until Episode One of DOOM is done and Gathering Darkness is complete. That'll probably take about two months, maybe longer, since I'm not rushing, I'm taking my time and I'm letting these stories breathe, as it were. What that means is that I'm not cutting any chapters. I do that sometimes, when I'm pressed for time.

Now that I have your attention, I'd like to do something that I've gotten better about, but I still have to keep myself from doing: talking about the future. I've stopped doing it so much because I so frequently screw up deadlines or decide that a project I was really amped about for like a week isn't actually all I thought it was going to be.

But I've got to talk about it every now and then, for my own sanity.

So, the near future.

Once Episode One of The DOOM Chronicles and Gathering Darkness are wrapped up, I'm going to be posting a story that NO ONE has heard about, and probably not many might have expected. Back in July of 2016, I started up a side account on WattPad and as an experiment. Ultimately, the experiment failed, but the end result of this was that I novelized the game Gone Home and I actually really like what I managed to get written. So, that's what I'll be posting. Since it's already written, I can at least stick to a rigid schedule. If you think you won't like it, because it's not action or horror, give it a shot anyway, you might actually enjoy it.

I'll be posting this to buy myself some time, because the next project I'm going to tackle is top secret, but it's also very unlike anything I've written before. Well...okay, that's not entirely true. There is action, there is some horror, there is a big elemental of survival. I'd say, above all, it's a story of action survival. It's also going to be really big. Not an epic-length project like The DOOM Chronicles, but it'll be fairly long for a single project. It's for a fandom I've never even tried to write for before. I really hope everyone will like it.

Small side note, I mentioned earlier that I might be interested in novelizing SubNautica, and even made a cover for it. But I've since realized that it wouldn't work, so don't be expecting that. Sorry.

After I complete the special project, I will then go back to DOOM and write Episode Two. That's about as concrete as I can make my near-future plans. I'm also pretty sure that after Episode Two, I will finally tackle my novelization of Unreal 2: The Awakening. It's something I still want to do and I think it'll be good to get it written and out there.

Now, as for how the future will look beyond the next several months? It becomes less concrete as time goes on, but here is a list of all my ideas. I will provide a bit of info and how likely these are to be written.

See You at the Bottom: Still a secret project, still being written. It might even be the next stand-alone project I tackle after Unreal 2.

Untitled Halo Epic: So, I don't really want to say exactly what will be going into this one, except to say that...well, practically everything will be going into it. I will a few things about it, though.
  • The protagonist will be an original character and an ODST.
  • It will be epic length, and by that I mean, I fully expect to be writing this story, off and on, for over five years.
  • It will be divided into parts, and parts within those parts, kind of like how there are parts within the Episodes of The DOOM Chronicles. Not exactly the same, but kind of.
  • The first story arc, which will be pretty lengthy, will be kind of a tribute to the original Halo games.
  • I don't know at all when I plan to get to this one. Honestly, I feel a serious urge to start working on it at least once a week, and keep having to say no, because I'm not even close to ready. Also, I made a cover for it, and I think it's easily the best cover I ever made, but it'll be awhile before I'm ready to reveal it. So, sorry for the wait. Believe me, I wish I could just start it right now. But then other stories would suffer.
Gathering Darkness: I may do more with this when it's over but I want to keep it really vague for now.

Untitled Halo Trilogy: Yeah, holy crap, ANOTHER big Halo project. This one will be its own thing, having nothing to do with anything else I've written. All I want to say is that I'm very disappointed with the new Halo games, and I'd like to take a shot at sharing my own vision for what should have happened after Halo 3. This one is also a long ways off.

KOTOR 3: Still so totally going to do this. Although I have no release date for it yet, I do feel like this is going to be prioritized. I *might* end up trying to tackle this after Unreal 2, but no promises. It's going to be another HUGE project.

The Suffering Trilogy: I'm still invested in novelizing the pair of Suffering games, and also creating a third and final story to kind of wrap it all up.

Red Faction: I have an idea for a loose trilogy. Essentially, I would novelize Red Faction pretty straightforwardly, I would do a big expansion on Guerrilla since it had such a loose story, and finally, I would do an adaptation of Armageddon, changing the plot considerably.

Half Life: I know there are some people really curious about this, and I made brief mention of it before, but I'd like to say it now: I'm going to take back up my Half Life franchise. One of the reasons it failed, (multiple times, seriously, I've tried this more than once), is because I kept waiting for the next Half Life game to come out, since I take my plot cues from the games. I remember as far back as 2007 telling myself "Well, I'll just start writing the series now and by the time I get caught up with them (at the time, and now and forever, Half Life 2: Episode Two), they'll have released a new one!" Yeah, obviously that's not happening. So I'll just have to make up my own events after that game. When I do get around to this, I'll be starting from scratch. Basically, I want to rewrite Bishop's War because, looking back over it, I realized I could do a lot more.

Gears of War: I've wanted to write some GOW fan fiction for awhile now, but never had a compelling enough idea. Well, now I do. Still not 100% about this, but when I get around to actually taking a look over it, let's just say that there will be a lot to cover if I can make it work.

Hero Trilogy: Back in 2008, and again in 2010, I wrote two StarFox fan fictions, one called Hero, the other called Legend. There was to be a final one called Myth. I never got around to it. I really liked those stories and those ideas, and I think I might try to rewrite them into a single, epic-length novel someday.

Dead Space: Much like the new Halo games, I was very dissatisfied with Dead Space 3. Not necessarily its story, but mainly its execution. So I might try to take a crack at some Dead Space stories someday.

Schisms: From time to time, I've wanted to novelize a few of the better horror Star Trek episodes. I even had plans to earlier, but they fell away as I lost interest. Schisms, probably my favorite horror episode from not just TNG but the whole series, has stayed with me. So I might take a shot at novelizing this someday.

Friday the 13th: I've wanted to write some Jason fan fiction for a long time now, and when I heard that they were cancelling the latest Friday the 13th film after years of stalled production, I figured, "You know what? Fuck it. I'll do it myself." I've got an idea for a new series that picks up 20 years after Freddy vs. Jason. It's not a reboot or a remake. I suppose it's technically a sequel, but it's like a sequel to the whole franchise (Minus Jason X of course, because that takes place so far in the future). I have a basic idea of what I want to do for the first story. Someday...

Split Second: There's this really weird movie from the early '90s called Split Second. It was one of the most bizarre and awesome B movies I have ever seen, and it's obscure as hell. I mean, seriously obscure. Like, no one I know, except for one person, has heard of it. (He showed it to me, actually.) But it's become less obscure lately, because they actually put it out on Blu-Ray! Anyway, I want to novelize it someday, and possibly even make a series out of it, since it's ripe for series material.

Mass Effect - Andromeda: This is the most uncertain, since it's one of those 'I'm really into this idea right now, but it might fade in a week or two' ideas. Plus, I'm still playing the game. (Literally right now, in between typing this up.) I feel a little more confident about this one, because ME: A is all about survival and exploration, and I really like those themes. I think I could make a neat little series out of it, but again, I simply don't have the time to go exploring.

And that's about it. I have a few others kicking around, but they're so thin and uncertain that they aren't really worth mentioning. Especially not with a line-up like that. Can you see why I get overly eager to get through projects? So I can move on to these other projects? That's the thing that sucks about time: there isn't enough of it. I've gotten better at managing my time, and I wax and wane at how good I am at it: some days, I feel awesome when I go to sleep, because I got so much done, other days, I'll glance at the clock and see that it's 3AM and wonder 'where the fuck did all the time go!?' and I've not gotten a whole lot done.

Obviously these are going to take time, and I'll be lucky to get three or four of these done this year. But it's nice to be making progress, and it's nice to talk about this every now and then.

Original Fiction

I posted Beneath, Hazard Lights, Dead Frames, Liberation Road, Final Message and Project Syn to my S. A. Lusher WattPad. They're basically short stories and novellas, all of them have elements of horror to them. Check them out, you might like them! I'm going to start posting Shadows soon, a horror novella, and then Unknown, another horror-mystery novella that I only got about 1/3 of the way through writing, so it will serve as a kind of transition between posting old content and writing new content.

As for the second pen name, I still don't have anything worth mentioning on it. It's still in development. Probably will be for a little while.

The final thing I want to say is that I've decided that I will be writing new Shadow Wars related material at some point. And not just stuff in the same universe, but material that is actually part of the original series. Basically, I want to go over that series one more, final time, before I'm done with it, before I can really set it aside and call it done. And by that, I mean the initial novels and shorts, not the whole universe. I don't want to get into details just yet, but I think people will like it. And, at some point, I still do plan to post them all to my S. A. Lusher WattPad account.

That's about it. Hopefully I can actually work super hard in April and feel like I did enough!


Friday, March 3, 2017

Game Talk #15: Gone Home

Spoiler Alert: This is a great game.

Gone Home is what I like to call a First Person Experience. This is a term coined, (I believe), by the guy who made ADR1FT. (BTW, that whole thing pisses me off. They spent years building up how fucking awesome ADR1FT going to be on the Xbox One and then, oops! Fuck all of you who wanted to buy this game for the One, we're launching it on the fucking Rift and now it's fucking canceled for the One. Fuck you. Yeah, I'm kind of bitter, whatever.)

In Gone Home, you are Katie, a college student who has been overseas for the past year, studying abroad. You arrive at your family's new home, an old mansion they inherited, late at night during a rainstorm. Your family is missing. Where have they gone? Why? You must search the mansion to discover the truth.

Now, I feel like I have to first talk about the 'controversy' surrounding the game. Some of it might have a foundation to stand on, most of it doesn't. Let's address that second one first.

I've come across a lot of negative reviews bitching and moaning that this game gets a lot more respect and praise than it deserves simply because it has a female protagonist with an LGBT plot and that they were pandering. First thing, I don't believe they were pandering. I believe they had a story they wanted to tell and told it, simply put. And if there were any unwarranted boosts to Gone Home's praise by people rating it good or upvoting it simply because it had a female protagonist or an LGBT plot, then I promise that the amount of furious, mouth-frothing hatred it received for those same exact reason far, far outweighed it. And again, even if they were pandering, so fucking what? Basically all video game companies pander. Only, for some reason, people only get pissed when the pandering isn't to men?

The second big criticism I see is that the game did not offer enough gameplay to warrant the 20$ pricetag. And...yeah, okay, I get that actually. I balked briefly at dropping a twenty on the game since I'd heard it had about two hours of gameplay to it, but only briefly. I ended up buying it for the Xbox One and I enjoyed it immensely. However, as much as I really am for supporting the developer and ensuring that those that work hard and bust ass producing content get paid and rewarded appropriately for it, I do think that maybe this should have been 10$, 15$ tops. I mean, at a stretch, and I mean a stretch, if you do everything in the game, you could probably squeeze maybe five hours out of it.

There's also a third criticism I've seen a lot and it is this: people arguing that Gone Home isn't actually a game. Now, we can sit here and debate what constitutes a game. Personally, I believe that Gone Home is a game, but the bottom line is: Who cares? No one's making you buy it, no one's trying to trick you into buying it, or if they are you shouldn't let them. If you don't think that you are going to enjoy this game, then don't buy it.

Like it's literally that easy. Let people enjoy Gone Home for fuck's sake. Stop pretending like you're doing a 'good thing' by 'warning people' about the game when in reality your hatred comes from some kind of bigotry.

Also, to cover my own ass: I don't think that if someone criticizes this game I automatically think they are wrong or homophobic or anti-LGBT. Valid criticism is always welcome and even necessary for growth and improvement.

Okay, that's out of the way.

To get right down to business, I will say that yes, Gone Home is really more about the experience than the gameplay. The gameplay itself is very simple: You walk around and you interact with things. Gone Home appeals to people who enjoy exploration, though. I mean, it basically just puts you in a big house and lets you loose with very little instruction.

There are some locked off areas, though, so you can't just immediately go everywhere. And there's a narrative to the whole thing. There's two actual goals, the broader one is to find out where your sister is and what she's been doing the past year while you've been gone, the more specific one is to find your way up into the attic.

So, I'd heard about this game a lot and I even somehow got it on my Steam account. (I still to this day don't know where it came from.) But I couldn't play it, much as I tried. (Shitty laptop.) So I thought I was just fucked. Then I realized it was coming out on the Xbox One back in January of this year (2016). I waited the couple of weeks and then grabbed it. By the time it was downloaded and I was all ready to play, it was pushing like three thirty, almost four in the morning. But fuck sleep, I was going to start playing this game immediately.

One of the first things I noticed was that the game was pinging my horror instincts. I kept expecting to turn around and there would be someone or something there, ready to jump on me the moment I noticed it. I mean, the game has the perfect environment for it: you're all alone and completely defenseless in a big, old mansion in the middle of the night with a heavy thunderstorm going on. But that was only because I'd played so many horror games and had grown to expect it. Eventually, I got past it and started to simply enjoy the environment for what it really was.

By the time about an hour had passed, I realized that I was getting so tired that I had to stop, because it was interfering with my ability to comprehend and enjoy the game. Let me tell you, that sucked. I did not want to stop. But I did. And when I got up the next day, I went right back to it and played until I beat it. Then I went through it again and picked up any achievements I'd missed. Then I went back through it again and listened to all the commentary from the creators of the game. There was a lot and it was basically all awesome to listen to.

Although I have to say, the guy who made the soundtrack, Chris Remo, his commentary came off as way, way too distant and wooden, like he was reading off of a script. Very mechanical.

Speaking of the soundtrack, it's awesome. I ended up buying a digital copy of it and it's pretty rare that I buy soundtracks. It's a great, low-key ambient original soundtrack and the game wouldn't have been nearly as good without it. At least for me.

Let's talk about the year the game is set in.

Gone Home takes place in June of 1995. June 7th at 1:15 in the morning, to be specific. The creators said that they did this because 1995 was, in their mind, kind of the end of an era before the internet and cellphones became very prevalent and the plot would become a little more impracticable. And that makes sense to me.

But beyond this convenience, I think it really helps to enhance the sense of nostalgia that the game is meant to exude. And I mean it's all there, from the old SNES games (although for me N64 games would be more appropriate), to the pillow fort in the living room to the empty pizza boxes and soda cans lying around to the TV Guide and the stack of VHS tapes. Walking through the house and finding all this stuff is almost like walking through a slice of the past, frozen and preserved, waiting to be examined.

And to make the game even better, you aren't just looking for information on your sister. Your parents are missing, too. And there's a whole treasure trove of personal information waiting for you, and it's kind of easy to get lost in this game and feel like this is your life, and the game examines some uncomfortable and, sometimes, honestly ugly emotions and situations. And you end up learning more about your family than probably you really wanted to.

I think to say anything more would wander into spoiler territory and I always try to maintain that experiencing a thing is better than being told about it. If you think you'd like a two hour interactive experience, then go buy Gone Home! I definitely recommend it.

And I'm very, very much looking forward to their next game Tacoma.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Game Talk #14: Life Is Strange

This is a special game, at least for me.

When I first found Life is Strange in early 2015, I was immediately intrigued by the concept. I mean, right away, it stood out of the crowd. I'm not even entirely sure now how I came across it, only that when I began to see screenshots and finally the trailer, I knew that it was something vastly different from what I was used to playing.

I was also kind of in a slump with video games.

Maybe that sounds stupid to some people, but video games have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I played Super Mario World with my cousins and Mortal Kombat with some friends way, way back in the day. I remember absolutely flipping my shit when I finally got a Nintendo 64 and some games. I logged close to 50 hours on my Perfect Dark Combat Simulator file. And once I got that N64, video games never really left my life.

But around the second half of 2014, I had just kind of begun falling out of playing games, and I didn't want to do so at all. It was not a conscious decision, it was just a thing that was happening and I seemed to have no control over it. I knew some of it was simply because I was having to devote more and more time to writing, but I wasn't even interested in new games coming out. Everything was beginning to seem bleak and pale.

But when I saw Life is Strange, I knew I had to try it. And I did. And it basically resurrected my interest in gaming again.

Now, with all that aside, let's actually talk about the game.

In Life is Strange, you play Max Caulfield, an eighteen year old high school student who has, after moving away five years ago, been accepted in a special academy back in her home town. One day, not long into her year there, Max abruptly learns that she has the ability to rewind time back in small increments and must use this ability to save lives, navigate awkward social situations and discover the truth behind a missing student, all while reconnecting with her former best friend Chloe, who is thrust abruptly back into her life.

Yes, this game is more about the story than the gameplay. Mechanically speaking, you walk around the environment and interact with items and people and rewind time. But, in my mind at least, I like to think that a game isn't as good as its controls are complex. Same for the story. Games are about...well, a lot of different things, but I guess mainly they're about experience. It doesn't really matter that Life is Strange isn't mechanically as complicated as a First Person Shooter or a Real Time Strategy. Does this make sense?

My main point is people need to stop whining just because there are popular games out there that aren't Call of Duty or insert other popular game here.

And then there was the other problem. I'm going to have to take a moment here and talk about something that's a bit of a problem.

This is Max. She is the protagonist of Life is Strange.

Apparently, when Dontnod Entertainment was trying to shop the game around to various developers, several of them said they would love to publish...provided they changed the protagonist's gender. So...there's a lot of things people throw out there when it comes to female video game protagonists. Like, holy God, there's just so many vicious, mouth-frothing, incoherent rants out there and honestly, it's too much to go into.

But here's a few things I do want to say on the subject.

The first is that the ratio of female to male video game protagonists is vastly, vastly out of proportion. It's getting better...I think. But not by much.

I always hear the cry that video game companies are pandering whenever they have a female lead. Whether or not they actually were, um...who fucking cares? That's what companies do: they pander to their audience. Sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. Also, I notice no one bitches whenever First Person Shooters pander with male power fantasies.

Like I said, there's a ton more on the subject, but here's something that's always kind of bugged me and it'll be the last thing I have to say on the subject. For now. Sometimes, I hear this response in regards to the protagonist's gender: 'Well, I don't really care what the protagonist's gender is so long as it's a well-written protagonist.'

Now, here's the thing: On the surface, this makes sense. And in a perfect world where there didn't exist things like bias and sexism and misogyny, um...yeah, the protagonist's gender actually wouldn't matter. And in a world where racism didn't exist, the protagonist's race wouldn't matter either. Here's the crucial flaw in that argument: this isn't that perfect world, it's nowhere near it, and to pretend otherwise is to basically continue ignoring all of these problems.

The big issue with this mentality is that when it 'doesn't matter' what the gender of the protagonist is, gaming companies always default to male.

Honestly, we'd literally be better off if all game companies rolled dice to see what gender their protagonist would be.

Okay, anyway, about the game.

It came out in episodes and they were released between a month and a half and two months apart. So everyone who hasn't played it yet and is planning on it, consider yourselves lucky. You don't have to wait through the excruciatingly long weeks to know what the hell happens next. There's five episodes in all.

Probably the thing that really cemented the idea that this game was really, really good was that about halfway through playing the first episode, I had already felt things. Being back in a high school setting made me feel uncomfortable, because I hated high school, but that one was easy. After I ran into my best friend who I had unceremoniously cut off contact from five years ago and she began reasonably giving me grief for it, I felt like shit, I felt guilty. When we went back to her house, where I had spent years hanging out at as I grew up and explored all the old memories, I felt painfully nostalgic for things I had never personally experienced.

Another thing that jumped out at me was that the creators of the game seemed to be trying hard to give a fairly accurate representation of the world. By this I mean the people in it. There were a lot of different kinds of people and the majority of them weren't overtly attractive. Which is pretty damned rare in gaming.

As for what you do, for a game that is supposed to overly simple according to a lot of people, there's actually a lot to do. You can talk with people, take pictures, interact with the environment, try to figure out puzzles, make decisions about whether or not you want to be a jerk or take the high road, play detective. And this is one of those games where your decisions have consequences. Like, serious, severe consequences that, if you fuck up, you'll probably be compelled to start the whole thing over again because things can go so, so wrong in this game.

And this game gets dark. Like, man, I wasn't really prepared for how messed up it gets and how hard some the decisions you have to make are.

So how about some complaints? Well, there aren't many. One common complaint was the dialogue, which was an attempt on the creator's part to mimic teenagers of today. Yeah, sometimes it was cringe-worthy, but whatever, the game is way too good for this to be a serious problem. The other thing that really, really bugged me was the ending. There was one crucial thing that was never explained, all. And I was seriously disappointed by that. But I did not regret playing the game.

As an extra little bonus, I have to say that this game has inspired some really cool creations. Here's some that I found.
  • Koethe Koethe, a guy who makes Life is Strange inspired music, and he does a great job.
  • What If?, a webcomic fan sequel to Life is Strange. DON'T read if you haven't beat the game.
  • Love is Strange, a text based game that provides an alternate take on the game.

I'll wrap this up by saying that again, this isn't really a review, this is just me blathering on. This game is fantastic and you can get a fair sampling of it by buying the first episode for five bucks. I also think this game is important in the culture of gaming and the culture of creativity, honestly. Go check it out!