Contemplating a Close

April 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Or at least, not renewing the domain.

It’s still months away but getting hard to justify spending money on here.

At one point I was thinking about setting up some kind of mentory/workshop thing, but I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be the one asking a nervous writer to give me money so that I can tell them what they know. I don’t want to be the person saying “If you give me many dollars, I will teach you how to be inspired!”. While I can’t vouch for what people do or don’t get out of these sorts of things and I also understand that people need money to survive or they’ll probably kill themselves, putting that monetary barrier between starting writers and the tools you tell them they absolutely must have feels wrong.

I’m glad for the experience here has given me, but it’s a lot for mostly one person. It’s also a lot like talking to a wall.

While I haven’t had a view-less day here since very early on, it’s coming.

The only things I want to leave this with are I think the content here is good, useful, and best of all it’s free. The Plan Plan is my shining moment for here and I kinda love the semi-farcical tone of Writing Musts but yeah… uh. hmm. I’ll just end with this a few of my own thoughts on writing. None of them are rules, because I don’t like rules. Think of them as suggestions you can use or ignore, however you like.

  • Show and tell, as you need it – Lean toward the former but sometimes the latter works. Use your judgement.
  • Write what you want – Your passion will bridge the gap between familiarity and expertise, but do research too.
  • There’s more to story structure than The Hero’s Journey – Write how you want. If you don’t want to do a three-act structure, don’t have one. It’s your story.
  • Don’t pay someone $600 to tell you to sit down and write – Fricking do it already.
  • Be yourself – You can’t be Hemingway, job’s taken. Them other authors you’ve heard of, also taken. Write the way you do, that nobody else can.
  • It’s never as good as you think – You’re already in love with the story because you’ve imagined it, seen the movie in your head, and already know it all. You’re too close to know.
  • It’s never as bad as you think – You see all the mistakes sometimes, and remember all the other drafts where it was slightly different. You’re still too close to know.
  • It’s never ready after the first draft – Read it. Don’t change a thing. Again. AGAIN. See all those bits that keep bothering you now? Now you can change them.
  • Write something you’d put on your own bookshelf – If it doesn’t appeal to you, or you’re not proud of what you’re trying to write (whether you’re doing or not), why are you doing this?
  • Nobody’s perfect and no story either – Accept you’ll make mistakes so you have the chance to make them. Can’t fix what doesn’t exist.
  • Let it happen – Be flexible. A story can take turns you weren’t expecting, and it becomes almost like reading.
  • Have fun – This one’s just common sense. It’s not all giggles and rainbows, but parts of the process ought to be enjoyable
  • Do it – Can’t cross the cusp of greatness if you don’t take a step.
  • Lastly, write your way. You wanna write transitions? You want snappy dialogue or stoic grunts? You want a trope-laden wonderland? People are going to tell you their rules, or the writing musts, the things that you must absolutely do OR YOU’RE NOT A REAL WRITER. Fuck it, you’re real and you’re writing it, so it’s your fucking story.

A Little Scratch of Prose

April 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

First draft of an exercise-type piece of writing. It’s a one-off done in a lunchbreak, not very long, but a shot at reinforcing a practice that’s been missing of late.

It was easy out in the spaces, where the gatherings didn’t infest every nook and place of reflection. He carried it with him too, rattling metal on metal as he trudged into the low marshes, but it was the spot alone that’d put a patch of nature between his toes.

“You know it don’t come right out?” asked a voice from the shrouded edge.

Woman, though he’d have felt the same regardless.

“In kind with the way the city noises find there way, even here?”

She lowered her eyes and stepped out, both hands stretched out while the rest of her form was hidden by a dark, grey robe. It was a few steps before he caught the deliberate motions of her movement, but only when separated by a finger more than an arm’s length did he realise it was where she trod that consumed her attention.

“Alright, what are you doing?” he asked.

She shrugged with whimsy, then stepped around him. Her fingers drummed against his chestplate on one side, and then her voice was on the other side, and at his ear.

“Well the quiet don’t cost. If you’re set on sticking around, you won’t be needing that purse at all.”

“I’m not doing this!” he exclaimed, and moved his body to step away. It was the moment he uncovered what she knew, and when he found his feet fixed in the mud. His arms flailed, grappling to make contact with her so he could regain his balance, but she’d already stepped back. In her hands, his cloth purse.

“Give that back,” he said, fumbling at a voice of authority.

“Here,” she said, holding it out toward him, but keeping it shy of his reach. “No?” she asked with a shrug, and turned away.

“This isn’t funny.”

She smiled. “It’s a little funny.”

His expression hardened and his voice sunk low. “Night is approaching.”

“Ooh, I know. Heard it gets dangerous round here, too. Best be careful.”

He grunted and pushed his body, and moved one of his legs free. His partial escape caught her by surprise, but it was the reach of a weapon she hadn’t seen that froze her in place. The point of it was short of her neck, but it’d only take a lunge to cross the distance.

Revisiting Your World

March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

So time to talk about For More Than Earthly Ends, that thing I should be working on more but have had trouble fitting in after moving house, jobs, offices, gaining a baby, having a regular game journalist gig, and well, all those other bits of life. I have been floundering on the rewrite since about December, and a lot of the reasons listed above are big reasons. I’m still struggling with one particular chapter, and I think it’s because there’s a lot more that happens in it than originally did. Most of the ‘productive’ stuff I’ve done has been around world-building, and making notes about the state of the different locations it’s set in.

I have a chunk of stuff that happens in Sydney, where I live, and can pinpoint the exact street where the events in question will take place in the distant future. There’s a bigger section that happens in Seattle, which I’ve never been to, though I’ve asked lots of questions, spent time in google maps, and even spent a few nights listening to online police scanners run by one of the news services over that way. I don’t know if I’ll have authenticity in it, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d love to visit, though admittedly it was just circumstances that led me to choose it as one of the three cities. The third is Shanghai, which I’ve been to once before, though it was before I’d started working on this.

Well, around the time I was planning, but before I’d started writing.

Tomorrow I’m going back there.

It’s going to be interesting for me, being in a place I’ve written about, and seeing how the ideas about the place I’d formed the first time differ from my new experiences. There’s also this one particular scene, it’s throwaway and scenery but also endemic to the characters and location, and it’d be kind of cool to sit in that spot and actually rewrite that scene while being able to soak in the place itself.

There are a lot of little bits and pieces I want to get right with this story. In some ways a little of my old perfectionist streak is coming out in the rewrite, and it’s sort of a bad thing, because that’s the same one that saw me not finish a thing. I want to get it further along, and really need to get through yet another chapter. I know something similar to this happened with another chapter earlier on, though that was focused on a different location. Maybe each thread will have its moment that needs to be reworked and revised, just enough to give the overall story a little extra quality.

Entry 4: The Khan Moment

March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

shot1

As commented on the other post, I managed to get the Platform to work. I don’t know if I was doing something wrong the previous time, but I started out by just following (exactly as I’d done before) the methods presented in the video, and this time the Component options were enabled and it was no longer read-only. Somewhere in between I’d closed the engine and come back to it, so who really knows what went wrong originally?

In doing the platform part of the tutorial, I discovered ideas were jumping around, and it might require you to have some knowledge of how Unreal handles the Paper2D stuff. The name is very indicative of execution, with all of the 2D sprites and flipbooks existing as flat objects in a 3d world. It’s through this that it handles graphic layers, but also uses 3D data for phyics and collision.

If you run through the tutorial, you’ll learn about constraining things to certain planes, which in real terms means you’d have things like the player and any objects they interact with, at the same Y coordinates. Backgrounds would be behind them, and foregrounds would be in front.

When it comes to the lift tutorial, the idea is that you have a platform with a bunch of variables that you can set to move back and forth, between a starting location and an ending location. The method used was linking a Timeline to a LERP (Linear Interpolation, or a variable position on a line between two points in 3D space, depending on a percentage), which plays back and forth, after a set delay. None of it’s done with code, just using the new blueprints. I haven’t touched a line of code.

Well, here’s the Khan moment:

The tutorial shows you how to make the platform move up and down, or left and right. So that’s across one axis or another. You could also make it run diagonally. That’s fine, IF you want to think two-dimensionally.

Disappearing platform!

Disappearing platform!

Changing the endpoint of the Lift Platform to somewhere else on the Y axis, the one that’s used to layer, means we have a platform that pops in and out, like those old disappearing ones in Sonic or whatever else.

Maybe that was obvious to most that did the tutorial, but really goes some way to showing what can be done rather simply, with a little obtuse thinking.


In semi-related news, talking about my progress on Twitter led to someone asking to be involved! I gave them my usual “Well if it LEADS anywhere, sure!” disclaimer, but y’know, just that little bit was exciting. Same probably applies to others that read this and either want to keep track, or you know, just talk, or even get involved. We’ll see.

The first-destination on my ‘actual game’ timeline is some kind of Adventure Game, possibly with RPG elements (but I dunno), but I expect to have a few different stops on the 2D train along the way. Platformer or Top-down might be next, or might go for the bigger fish.


I tied out the evening with a few attempts at playing the versions of my old Sierra-esque game, recovered from the internet. It’s definitely not the same one I remember having completed, but bits were close enough that I could nearly play it through. Ideally I’d love to get to a position where I was able to recreate something along those lines, perhaps not with quite so terrible graphics though not a whole lot better either. That’d be a decent enough goal.

Note: When I get back to the sequence/self-education stages on this big ol’ game development journey, I might start including pictures. At the moment it’s almost exactly what you see on the tutorials so rendered moot, but in the future, who knows.

Entry 3: A Running, Jumping, Digging-Holes Game*

March 11, 2015 § 1 Comment

Right, so maybe there’s no digging holes just yet. Also do you have ANY idea how old that bloody description is? There’s also no failure states or challenges or score, but there is running and jumping and a peculiarly physics-enabled platform that you can move (by running into it) so that you can jump onto another platform.

IT’S A GAME!

Okay, maybe not, but I’m making progress! I’m stuck again, but I’m making progress. As said before, I’m going through the Paper2D tutorials for Unreal Engine 4. I had a little trouble with the camera setup earlier (details below) but the area I’m at currently (and also stuck on) is this part of the tutorial: (Link). It’s the bit where you make a platform that moves around. I think it may be part of the default template, but I’m not sure. Either way, it’s not working, but…

I did eventually find what was wrong with my thingy; that’s the uh, camera viewpoint on play thingy. Looked as though I’d added the component spring-arm and camera to an instance of the Character (which I didn’t need) rather than the class. As this wasn’t translating through to the player start (lack of inheritance as it wasn’t on the base blueprint class), it kept everything in perspective.

The way I discovered this was restarting the tutorial, finding that most of the early runs were ‘simulates’ not ‘plays’, and then skipping ahead to the camera-boom tutorial.

Somewhere along the line I’d also removed the character from the view and dragged it back in, and found that I had to redo all the jump/gravity changes (and it’s that which clued me in to the fact I hadn’t been working on the class definition itself)

As far as the current bit of the tutorial goes, the main problem I’m having is that when I create a new Actor blueprint, it’s not letting me add a component to it which… being away from it and typing it out… makes me wonder if that’s the wrong approach. There are bits and pieces that are different between the UE4 version in the video and what’s available now, but shouldn’t there be a special lift sprite first, or shouldn’t it be attached to the existing platform sprite? Hmmm. The current previous for the blueprint is a sphere, and there’s a sphere attached, and not a lot is changeable. It’s seemingly locked in a read-only mode, which is weird and mysterious, but not in the way where you’re attracted to it… cause it’s a locked sphere blueprint.

Also just using the default sprite graphics at the moment, so will need to throw together some basic pixel crap to make it all a bit more interesting, but that’s also a later-thing.

Writing Musts: Follow Everyone Else’s Standards

March 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

One of the things people will tell you is that as a writer, you have to meet their expectations. This might seem like a challenging thing to have to do, considering that the world is full of billions of people, but it’s much easier than making up your own mind or having your own principles.

A simple question is all you have to ask – will this upset somebody? Yes? Then don’t write it.

It’s a little easier when you take into account that all readers are the same, but it’s even easier when you realise that they all want the exact same story.

One of the instigating thoughts for this post is about how it’s difficult to write women. I mean, who of us can really say we’ve ever met a women before? Not many is my guess. While we can write about magics and aliens and dystopian governments until the cows come home – and I suppose write about cows too – women are this great unknown. One of the usual pieces of advice are to think about women as people, but then how well do we know people either? It’s much easier to understand the detached logics of an automaton than to relate to a person affected by needs or emotions, unless those needs are battery power and the emotions are caused by a malfunctioning emotion chip unwisely embedded in a robot’s CPU.

Actually, that’s not quite true. Well yeah, women are hard to write, but that’s not the instigating thought. It was people talking about strong female characters that did it. Yeah, awesome women characters kicking arse just as good as any man character would. They naturally have those qualities that denote they’re not a man, but when MEASURED by the same yardsticks we’d use to measure the strength of a man character, a women character has STRENGTH. This is a solution.

Some might say that this is an erroneous approach to creating well-developed characters that happen to be women, and that this isn’t a great indicator of strength because you’re restricting yourself to one particular measure that’s rather male-centric in terms of validation of characterisation.

But what’s the alternative – thinking about it? Who’s got time for that? Evaluating a character’s strength by something other than violence or being a cinderblock of unmoving thought? Naaaah, let’s go with what we’ve always used to judge characterisation. Sure, strength could be extending support to loved ones when you’re under a lot of pressure yourself already, but it’s probably vanquishing demons and blowing shit up and not needing help from others.

So don’t worry about all that. Just write to the same standards everyone expects, and measure the strength of a character through how much they can lift and not how many they can carry, or whatever other stupid standard that’s not this one people want to use.

Entry Two: 2D or Not 2D

March 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m doing bits and pieces of the Paper2D tutorial for Unreal Engine. While the module itself is still in an alpha state, I’m running through what it can do, which at the moment is just recreating the 2D game template the engine comes with. I’m doing this instead of starting with the template, so that I can hopefully understand what’s going on. The tutorials itself is a series of videos that you can find over here, that really walk through the basics of putting together a simple 2D gamemode. The total length of the tutorial (all videos) is a little over two hours, but I’ve been staggering lessons over a few days.

I’m doing that because I want to give each one time to sink in, but also to try and build up a habit.

I’ve gone this way with it because I want to get some really basic things worked out before I start experimenting with my own ideas, and also to understand what’s going on with the engine.

It’s a strange experience so far, and I know I’ve messed something up, as the game refuses to recognise the orthographic camera attached to the player character, instead constantly giving the player start as our viewpoint. Might be to do with perspective mode in editor, but I don’t know.

It’s interesting what stuff is possible, and how much further it comes with a few checkboxes. The way it layers bits and pieces gives me ideas for walkbehinds ala how the old AGI engine used to mimic 3d areas, and presumably if the Y axis wasn’t at 0, you could do some cool layering with bits and pieces.

The goal (once I’ve got the tutorial finished) is to do a very basic sidescroller, with three areas (well, rooms) that you can move between, an enemy (or two) to attack, and that’s about it. That’s my own proof of concept. At the same time, my son is scrawling down ideas he has for a game of his own that’ll force me into 3D stuff, but even there we’re limiting the scope to relatively simple (I hope) to start with. That’s a walk-around, attack a thing, in a single area. It’ll be staggered of course, and I know I’ll want to do some of the other tutorials before I try implementing it.

Either way, this is where I’m going with it.

If anyone else has thought about diving into Unreal Engine 4 now that they’ve gone an made it more accessible, shout at me :)

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