Blog

This past week…

It’s been a busy, but incredibly positive, week.  The biggest news is that I’ve submitted the final work for a project that I’m incredibly excited about and should be able to talk about very, very soon.

I also finished the first draft of the first new content for my novel in over a year.  I’m working on adding chapters to fill out some character development and to stop the main beats of the plot feeling so rushed in the second act.  It’s been really strange to go back and write new content for those characters in that world, especially as it’s a novel that I began 3 years ago and the person I am now is very different from the person who sat down to write it originally.   What’s been most surprising is seeing patterns evident in the book that reflect things I’ve been going through in my personal life, and only now being aware of them.  It really brought home how the creative process is, in many ways, a process of digging through yourself.  It also really brought home how crappy first drafts are.

Other news is that I’ll be talking at the Media and Design School in Auckland at some point in the next few months, and hopefully at the Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival in May.

I also received feedback from my two presentations at the Victorian IT Teachers Association Conference.  You can find it here.

Site update & a short review…

I’ve added a school visit section to the site.  You can wander around it here.

I also found this brief review and collection of blurry photos from my talk at GC:AP.

“The next session I popped into Paul Callaghan’s talk on a theory of everything. He is the head of games design at AIE Melbourne and thought it would be interesting to find out a theory on everything. He was quite entertaining and talked about how a theory can be applied to all things of ‘play’ while he said play isn’t the correct word for it; it was the only thing he could think of that could be used to best describe it. He talked about that in almost everything we do we test the world, build a hypothesis, test this within the world and the re-evaluate and redefine the hypothesis. But in certain worlds there are rules we know and are aware of, or quickly learn, so we are always testing identities and ‘playing’. He mentions that we are still exploring the grammar behind the games design world and that his theory is evolving with that.”

Remediation

Here‘s an interesting post from Brenda Brathwaite’s blog about how new media forms look to previous ones for inspiration, and how perhaps we should look to opera for inspirations about how games can tell stories.  As a games writer, it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a little while, and then this interview with Jonathan Blow came along and triggered further thoughts along similar lines.

Challenge and stories aren’t really pulling in different directions in games.  It may be that we’re trying to use traditional storytelling techniques with games, and that’s where we fall down, but the reality is that with games, it’s just the mechanisms that we can use to tell stories are different than they are in other forms.  Brenda’s example of opera is a really good one, but you can easily find examples in other media.  Comics spring to mind as a form that shares elements with both film and prose, but how you interact with that is different to both.

And, I think that’s one of the key things – interaction, or how you engage and derive meaning from the medium – but games aren’t unique in being interactive.

I’ve often spoke in the past about levels of indirection in story-telling.  In prose, you’re effectively 3 levels seperate from your emotional response to the story.  You need to parse the sentences, imagine the events unfolding, then have your own individual experience of it.  With film, you’re 2 levels away.  You no longer need to parse and imagine, but you do need to form a bond with the characters on screen, and then your emotional response is filtered through that.  Games, or good games, remove the engagement barrier to a single level.  There’s no need to imagine events, they’re presented just like a film, and as the player, you’re the one controlling the characters and, hopefully, engaging in their emotional journey along the way.

As game developers, we believe that we’re unique, but the truth is, all media is interactive to some degree, it’s just the level of engagement and imagination we have with our audience is unique.  Not better though – there are things prose does better than other mediums, things that film does better, things that comics do better, things that music does better – the trick is to work out what the strengths of our medium are and play to those.

One thing that games do better than other media is brought up in Jonathan’s interview when he talks about Fallout 3.  In it, you come across a nurse who tried to hold off a horde and failed.  Jonathan thinks this moment works, but is an example of how the rest of the game fails, because there aren’t other moments like this.  I think that’s important to consider how effective that single element would be without the rest of the game around it.  There may not be a particularly strong central story to Fallout 3, but there is a consistent world, with consistent characters, and the player experience is built around that, rather than on the beat by beat, linear progression.  In this case, the player is encouraged to take on the identity of a post-apocalyptic wanderer trying to survive, and the world is designed to support that.  Story, or at least a linear story, is almost secondary to that identity-adoption.

Testing identities is one of the fundamental things that we do when we play, both as adults and as children, but we can’t do that without construction of some sort of fiction.  However, once we have that fiction, we can tell stories.  Games with stories provide fictions that encourages us to adopt the identities and goals of the characters and to believe that the actions they take and the challenges they face are important.  I believe that challenge alone isn’t important, that actions themselves aren’t important, but that it’s why we take those actions to overcome those challenges that is important. Games connect with us directly, and those that work, enable us to adopt those identities and want to solve those problems alongside the characters.

A bit about me…

I’ve added an about page to the site.  Feels like I have to write a new bio for every single upcoming event 🙂  Hoh well, I had to do it anyway for one of the projects that I hope to announce sometime in the next few months…

And speaking of upcoming events, I’m going to be appearing at this year’s National Screenwriters’ Conference in Adelaide.  Session details are:

Writing – It’s More Than A Game

The differentiation between games and films is blurring rapidly. As game graphics and other technical innovations reach a highpoint, games are depending more and more on character, story and plot… and traditional screenwriters are becoming a valuable resource for the games industry.

The major global film market (15-30yo) is spending more time and money on games than cinema – and the trend isn’t slowing. So is there a place for you in game writing? Do you have to be a user to appreciate the form? How do your skills translate to this exciting field? And is the sky really the limit? Find out how you can tap into this exciting writing opportunity from three internationally respected games writers.

So, here we are…

I’ve tried to blog / maintain a website in the past, but always failed because I felt like there wasn’t much of interest happening. That’s changed now that I’ve gone freelance because there are some interesting projects on the horizon – most of which I can’t talk about just yet, but soon. I hope.

In the meantime, this site is still under construction, but you can visit some of the sections that were easier to put together than others:

Appearances

One of the reasons I wanted to start this site was to bring together a lot of the random stuff floating around the web that I’d been involved with. This page contains videos of my appearances on ABC2 and at Freeplay.

Conferences & Presentations

Over the years, I’ve done a bunch of conference presentations.  Here’s where you can find the details of the sessions and copies of the presentations.  Most of the new ones are in .mov format because I bought a mac and fell in love with Keynote.

Game Projects – Old ProjectsCurrent Projects

Here you can find details of what I’m working on now and what I’ve worked on in the past.  Sadly, the current project page is a bit quiet because everything’s early days.

Writing

This is where you can find samples of my personal writing.  It’s a little sparse just now because I’ve been focusing on a novel for the past few years.  That should change during 2009.