Mechanics vs Narrative in Gaming

This past week has been a little bit of a mess for me in terms of productivity. I’ve been doing a lot of last minute work and planning for NaNoWriMo on everything from outlines to character creation. Needless to say, I haven’t had much time for much else.

So, this blog post is going to be on the shorter side, and I’m actually going to be sharing some videos here that I found interesting, both of them about narrative in gaming (particularly in video games).

This first video from Extra Credits brings up the issue of gamers retaining fewer narrative elements of a game than people who indulge in other mediums. The creators posit that much of this has to do with how people are taught to think about games rather than the potential of games to be a great storytelling medium or a deeper art form.

This video also connects to one from PBS’ Idea Channel.

In this video the host asks whether video games are more than the sum of their mechanics, or whether players are primarily driven by the action of interacting with the game rather than the story elements.

As both a gamer and a writer, I find this subject very interesting. I think that gaming certainly has the potential to be a great storytelling and narrative medium. Some games have already demonstrated great ability to deliver meaningful story lines. I mean, I don’t think people would’ve been so upset about the ending of Mass Effect 3 if they didn’t care about the story.

Hopefully you guys find these videos as interesting as I did, and feel free to drop any thoughts in the comments section. I’ll be making more of an effort to get back to more in depth posts in the near future, and (as I mentioned) I will also be writing up a storm during NaNo this month, so maybe I’ll include some updates on how that’s going.

In closing, have a safe and happy Halloween!

Updates and Updates

Hello readers! So I was out of town this past weekend, and unfortunately that meant that I didn’t get around to writing anything ahead of time for my usual Tuesday posting. Since I didn’t have anything ready, I thought I’d take this time to talk about some changes that occurred on a topic I posted about a month or so ago as well as talk about some things I’ll be trying to do, content-wise, moving forward.

As I said, I wrote a post about this awhile ago, but I wanted to touch on the Ghost In The Shell live-action casting rumors. Some of you may already know this, but Margot Robbie appears to be out of the running for the lead role. Instead producers are pursuing Scarlett Johansson for that part.

Many of my initial worries and objections still apply to this casting decision, though as a Hollywood selection, it’s not too bad (I mean, if there aren’t any Asian women who can be lead actresses in Hollywood, might as well get Scarlett Johansson, right?). I liked Johansson a lot in The Avengers, and I enjoy how she’s starting to make a name for herself as an action star with the Black Widow role as well as more recent films like Lucy. This would be a good addition to her resume. And who knows, maybe she’ll be in one of the upcoming Expendables movies.

And, with that updated, I thought I would mention that I am going to be making a concerted effort to focus a little bit more on posting reviews for books, this following a resolution I’ve made to try and read more. I might also continue to throw in thoughts on things in other mediums with strong storytelling or narrative elements that I feel are worth talking about, but I will be trying to stay away from random news stories like the one above, at least as far as writing out full blog posts goes.

I also have some writing projects that I’ve been working at, so I may start posting more things about those endeavors and the writing process to give people a little bit more insight into that. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve done with the blog so far, and I hope you’ll continue to read my work as I move forward with it.

The Opposite of War: A Review of Saga Vol. III

I don’t really want to repeat myself in terms of what I think is strong about this series, suffice it to say that it’s pretty awesome. The third volume of Saga continues to be good in all of the ways that its predecessors were in terms of art, characters, plot, and setting.

In a neat twist of chronology, this volume actually backtracks a little bit from the cliffhanger ending of the previous one and fills in some of the information we were missing. If you’ve seen the Bourne movie series, the two volumes link similarly in the way that The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum do. This third volume, currently the latest, also brings Hazel’s (the child’s) infancy to a close by its end, which makes me excited to see how the series will develop as it moves forward and she’s slightly older.

Vaughan takes a lot of shots at writers and journalists throughout this volume as well, which I found particularly humorous. Marko and Alana are actually hiding out at the home of their favorite author, a man (or alien cyclops thing) who wrote a book with a hidden message of peace. The book was one of the major factors in the two of them beginning their relationship.

The author character, Oswald, is also working on a book that has the working title The Opposite of War, and I think the question of what exactly is the opposite of war might be one of the running themes moving forward in this series. Spoiler alert, the opposite of war is not peace. As Oswald says, peace is “just a lull in the action.” I’ll be curious to see if Vaughan develops this idea further, as Oswald never fully explains what he means by the title or what his book is about.

If you haven’t started reading this series, you really should. And if you have but you haven’t gotten to Volume III, then I can assure you that it’s as good as the previous ones. Definitely check it out!

Family Beginnings: A Review of Saga Vol. II

The first volume of Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ space fantasy comic series Saga threw us right into the action with Hazel, the story’s narrator and daughter of the protagonists Marko and Alana, being born. Soldiers on two separate sides of an ongoing galactic conflict, the two fell in love and had a child, a child that the powers that be want captured or killed for propaganda purposes.

In the story’s second volume, we get to learn a little bit more about how Marko and Alana’s romance began. Flashbacks of their meeting when Marko was a POW and Alana was his guard are threaded into this installment. There is less forward moving action in the narrative, but Alana does get to meet her in-laws and starts to build a relationship with them. Meanwhile, their pursuers continue to hunt them and begin to close in on their location.

This volume continues the tale well, and it was nice to get some background information about the characters filled in too. Much of what was great about the first volume of the story holds true here. Staples’ art is incredible, as are the imaginative settings and races she and Vaughan have come up with to flesh out this world. Vaughan’s writing is always on point. The story moves at just the right pace, and the characters are conveyed so well, all of them having backgrounds and motivations that make them sympathetic in their own way.

If you haven’t started reading Saga, I highly recommend it. You can check out my review of the first volume if you want my thoughts on how the series starts. It’s a great story, one of the better ones I’ve read recently, and it’s definitely worth your time.

Short Story Sunday: –All You Zombies–

In my last post I wrote briefly about how psyched I am for the upcoming film Predestination, which is based on the Robert A. Heinlein short story –All You Zombies–. So, any guesses as to this week’s short story pick? Suh-prize!

–All You Zombies– was written by Heinlein in 1958 over the course of a single day. It was first published in 1959, and in 1980 it was nominated for the Balrog Award…though why it was nominated for this over twenty years after its initial publication I couldn’t tell you.

The story plays with the idea of an interesting paradox that could be created given specific circumstances and the ability to travel through time. I won’t ruin exactly what those circumstances are or how the story plays out, but the concept behind the story has become a very popular and oft cited one.

If you enjoy stories involving time travel, especially ones that touch on its complications, or if you want to read the source material behind Predestination before its release, then I definitely recommend checking this out.

Predestination Takes On a Heinlein Tale

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about how producers appear to be turning to classic science-fiction stories for inspiration in TV and movies. With the success of Game Of Thrones on HBO and the boom of sci-fi and fantasy in YA fiction, I don’t find this entirely surprising. Cynically speaking, it seems a good time to turn to the classics in a genre that is under-appreciated by mainstream audiences (especially in book form) and try to make some dollars putting it into a more popular medium all while seeming original or groundbreaking in the process.

That doesn’t mean there can’t be some awesome results.

Predestination, a film based on the short story “–All You Zombies–” by Robert A. Heinlein, will be actor Ethan Hawke’s second film working with the Australian directorial team the Spierig Brothers. Their first film together was Daybreakers, a post-apocalyptic story where vampires have taken over the world and blood is in high demand. While the film wasn’t perfect, the concept was both cool and unique, and now the directors will have a chance to take a shot at one of the most famous time travel paradox stories of all time.

Whether or not you’ve read “–All You Zombies–” you are probably familiar with some of the time travel paradoxes presented, or at least the hypotheticals behind them, as they have seeped into a variety of other main stream films and TV shows. Hawke plays a Temporal Agent whose job it is to stop crimes before they occur. But of course his travels through time have other ramifications, which I won’t go in to, suffice it to say that tampering with certain events or existing in certain time lines can lead to some interesting things.

While time travel movies may not be everyone’s thing, I think this one looks very good. The atmosphere and cinematography for the setting looks great. I’m also happy someone has decided to create a time travel story based on this short, and it seems the Spierigs will treat the work with respect. Hawke even directly quotes one of the lines from the story in the trailer footage.

Predestination is set to be released in the United States in early 2015, which isn’t all that far off. I’m definitely psyched for this film, and I’m hoping that it is as good as the trailer makes it seem.

The Shows I’m Watching and You Should Too: The Flash

Those of you who have been reading my blog long enough may know that I’m a fan of the CW show Arrow. As corny as it can be, I think the show is great fun and has only gotten better after the first season. Last week the CW launched its second DC Superhero inspired show with The Flash, and I have to say I’m already pretty impressed. In fact, after only one episode, I think that it’s better than Arrow, or at least better than where Arrow started.

The story follows Barry Allen, played by Grant Gustin, a CSI who has become infatuated with strange criminal cases following the death of his mother at the hands of some strange supernatural force that he witnessed as a child. His father, played by John Wesley Shipp who portrayed the Flash in the 1990 TV show, was convicted of the crime, as no one believes what Allen saw. Since that time, Allen has been trying to piece together his mother’s murder and prove his father’s innocence.

Things in his life take a turn when a particle accelerator built in his hometown of Central City explodes, and Allen is struck by lightning from the blast. He receives superhuman powers and the gift of great speed, but he isn’t the only one. The whole city has become populated with “metahumans” some of whom are not so nice, and Allen, with the help of some scientist friends who were working at the particle accelerator, are the only ones who are in any position to stop them.

Personally, I find Barry Allen to be a more compelling character than the stoic Oliver Queen of Arrow, which is one of the reasons I already think The Flash might have greater potential. While Queen’s story of turning his life from playboy millionaire to hero vigilante is an interesting one, I find Allen’s tale of seeking justice for his family more appealing, and I find his character more sympathetic.

The strength of the supporting cast built around Gustin also bolsters the show. While I like the Arrow cast, I feel like a lot of the show’s success rests on the (worthy) shoulders of Emily Bett Rickards. The Flash has prominent veteran actors in Jesse L. Martin and Tom Cavanagh, both of whom have substantial roles as mentor figures (in different ways) for Allen. Carlos Valdes, who plays Allen’s engineering sidekick Cisco Ramon or Vibe (as he is called in the comics), is another bright spot in the cast who brings a lot of spirit and humor to the show.

The Flash’s second episode airs tonight, and if you haven’t already started watching, I definitely recommend the show. If you like Arrow, then this show will be right up your alley. If you thought Arrow was a little lacking, I still think The Flash is worth a look.