Playing With Imagination: Video Games and Storytelling

Playing With Imagination: Video Games and Storytelling

This part of the special is personal to me. Seeing Ready Player One in theaters is something of a joy to me, considering that movie made me love being a gamer. I’ve been one since I was a kid. I played anything I can get ahold of. Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, PC, even those crappy Tiger handheld games were what shaped my life. It’s hard for me to pinpoint the exact first game I played, either on PC or Console. But I’ll list a few as we go. For now, I’ll discuss my life as a gamer and how it’s shaped my life and my writing, as well as discussing story in gaming overall.

 

Early Years

I started growing up with video games when I was around five or six. My first system was obviously Super Nintendo and a Game Boy (The old gray brick, but I still have a purple Game Boy Color). My first game was a hard one. If it wasn’t Zelda, it was Mario. Of course it was. Everyone played Super Mario World. But the trio for me back then was Mario, Zelda, and Metroid. The stories were enough to get me hooked and even if they were primitive by today’s standards, in a way, Nintendo pioneered retro storytelling that we take for granted.

So as I grew up I got into PC titles. StarCraft, Diablo, Doom (even dipped my toe into the modding scene thanks to my dad), Civilization, and Command and Conquer. Something about PC and Real Time Strategy games back then was something I had a soft spot for, but for me, it was platformers. Even today, I have an appreciation for old-style platforming that harkens back to the early years.

When I was eight, I had a bus-mate introduce me to Pokémon, and that changed my life forever. I’ve talked before about how much Pokémon means to me, but it truly changed me for the better. By middle school, I had branched out. Kingdom Hearts, Tekken, Final Fantasy, Unreal Tournament and all sorts of new adventures.

I could ramble on, but I wanted to be nostalgic for a time when video games weren’t about headshots or loot boxes or throwaway titles on mobile platforms (though a few of my favorite games right now have those). To me, games back then meant something. It made me wonder, between them and cartoons it made think about what I could do to exist alongside them. To have my name be among the great names of creativity.

I’m sure having a monster cat and a mythical kitsune are imaginative enough, but I wanted to show that I’m not just trying to buck the latest trend. I want to create the kinds of worlds I enjoyed back then and have the kids of today share that same whimsical fun I grew up with. They can enjoy their Pokémon, Mario, and Minecraft, but I would love it if people young and old saw what I can do and enjoy my works alongside them. It’s been a dream of mine since I was young, seeing my name uttered alongside legends. It might not be until I’m forty, but it’s a goal worth pursuing.

 

How Gaming Influenced Me As A Writer

A lot of what went on in those games made me think like a creator. I would always imagine scenarios where those characters had a central role (essentially, fanfiction before the internet). Seeing what I could do with those characters and how they shaped me, I could hone my skills at an early age. I knew I wanted to be a creator, but I never found myself wanting to make games.

I wanted to have a TV series of some sort, something I could watch along with my fans and go “I made that. Those are my characters. Over times, thanks to the internet, that’s more possible than ever.

My writing habit began when I made Pokémon fanfiction. I created my own heroes and while I did use the games’ characters, I gave them the care and attention I would to any of my other characters. If they were goofy, I’d make them so. If they had a seriousness to them, I’d make them serious. If they were a bit of both, then I’d accommodate that. I’d do all I can to have my interpretation of the world I grew up with to show that one day, I can be a creator like them. Then, over 500 chapters and twenty story arcs later, I gave up (I’ve been at that for over 10 years. Don’t judge. >_>), and I started taking writing seriously and kickstarted my adventure.

I have a lot to owe for making game universes I can build upon. While I did make a few original works, none of them were anywhere what I wanted them to be. I swore I would improve and seeing myself get better over time, it’s like night and day. If my upcoming short story is anything to go by, it’s only going to get better.

And even with this simplest of stories, I can add to them by creating my own take on the universe. Sometimes, I would simply make novelizations of those works and add to the lore. And all the while, it made me better. I took up writing since I wasn’t an artist. If I were, I’d be making fan art and have decent cash on me long before I got a real job. Either way, I live to create. If anything, I could go back to making writing casually if this doesn’t work out, but I’m hoping it does. I want people to enjoy my works most of all, and that’s what keeps pushing me forward.

 

Is Game Storytelling Underrated?

I find that storytelling in games isn’t as appreciated as I’d want. A lot of game stories can be fantastic. The Last of Us, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Indie games such as Braid and Undertale can have huge fanbases and fantastic storytelling. But whenever I see someone gush about the “next big thing” it’s usually either a TV show or a movie. I don’t see that many people publicly go on about how they’re eagerly awaiting the next chapter of Telltale’s story-based games or the next big RPG.

I feel like for the casual folk, games don’t have that impactful of a story. As a gamer, I know better than to judge like that, but not everyone plays games like I do. In fact, some don’t bother with the story, no matter how good it is. Which is a shame, since I feel some games have better storytelling than most TV shows and over half of what Hollywood produced in last year alone.

This may have also to do with said people growing up on old arcade classics and NES gems rather than anything modern. Back then, the story was nothing more than a blurb inside of a manual. You’d be lucky if the game even had a story at all. By the 90s, Squaresoft (Now Square Enix) was sort of the brainchild of modern storytelling that can be gripping and classic. Final Fantasy VI (Then Final Fantasy III), was their peak until VII came around. Since then, many have thrown their hat into the ring and even a number of old PC games like Monkey Island and old Point and Click Games from Sierra (Kings Quest) and LucasArts (Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle) gave storytelling new life.

So I won’t understand some people when they brush off a game’s story for being inferior when there are numerous examples of fantastic storytelling in games, but not everyone is the same. Many enjoy their mobile games and that’s fine. But don’t reject stories in games unless you truly want to appreciate the work that goes into developers that push for an immersive experience.

 

Final Thoughts

I’ll be a gamer for a long time and no matter what I’ll find new ideas from many of the latest successes to see how I can interpret them. Legends of Eifalia, my upcoming novel, is a mix of all of the fantasy franchises I loved when I was a kid. One day, I’ll get that out to you all, but for now, my short stories will serve as an introduction.

What about you? Do you think video game stories need more love? Any stories you loved in a video game? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.


That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.

If you have any suggestions for future topics and reviews, hit me up on my social media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond. Your feedback is what keeps me going, so thank you for supporting me.

My short story, Do Not Stare Into The Eyes of a Kitsune, is now available for pre-order on Amazon and ebook distributors everywhere. Coming soon, June 5th, 2018.

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Fiction Friday: What Will We Do Without Exile?

Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review What Will We Do Without Exile? by Eleanna Castroianni

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Fiction Friday: What Will We Do Without Exile?

Today’s short story is What Will We Do Without Exile? By Eleanna Castroianni, as featured in Clarkesworld Magazine. You can find it here. This one is a unique take on the whole “Immigration lawyer” who helps other immigrants gain legal status. Only imagine that in space with two alien species that are humanoid in nature. While creative, it’s also a touching tale that’s sure to tug a few heartstrings for some.

So let’s begin

Space Immigration

The story is about Nell, a lawyer hired to defend an alien refugee who is seeking asylum on a planet after her’s was destroyed by conflict. The story goes through Nell’s effort to defend her, despite the risks it would take to convince those letting her kind in to show that she’s trustworthy. However, doubt seeps into the two and the two have a dramatic turn for protection.

This story is another simple one, but it works out. It’s a situation, a moment in time where all that happens is Nell offering to defend her client and admit her into her homeworld. There’s a number of topics, no doubt inspired by the many topics of today. While I can’t speak from experience, immigration lawyers must have it rough. Having to convince the powers that be to let your client into the country and defend them from those who would deport them must be a troubling task.

I once saw a film about two Mexican immigrants fleeing to the US and trying to survive (forget what it was called, though. I watched it in school). This kind of reminded me of that, because in most cases, most of these people are fleeing a country that isn’t viable for them, and they’re seeking a better life. I won’t go any further than that, but this will be relatable to some.

I do like the simple dynamic of office conversation being the centerpiece of storytelling. No one has to die, no big action, yet this story has made something impactful just by being conversation-focused. It’s the type of storytelling that doesn’t get enough credit and this is an example of this type doing a wonderful job and providing an engaging plot. Seeing both Nell and Uruna talking about the prospect of refuge while increasing tension by having her lie to get her into the world is one that makes stories like these so excellent. Again, nothing big has to happen, but seeing simple devices work so well is what makes short stories like these excellent.

Another thing is its use of genders. Their species, Koohar, has four genders. Some of the examples given are “child-rearing female” and “child-bearing male” No doubt it’s hard to suggest more than two genders without being super creative, but seeing as we only know each other and don’t know a species with three genders, let alone four, it’s one that fuels creative minds and shows that following human structure exactly is what makes some alien species interesting.

While the world building is okay, the characters are the focus. I love this interaction and I want to see more stories that touch on sensitive subjects while still providing an enjoyable tale. I was engrossed in this world and while I understood the impact of modern-day subjects, it made me believe in this world in relation to my own. I applaud the author for that.

First and Second?

This story is notably told in a strange combination of first and second POV. The first being Nell, the second being a robot named Luciole. Honestly, this brings me back to a previous discussion of why I usually don’t care for second person. And it’s the need to make them a separate character. I felt the addition of “you” could have been left out since I felt Nell’s story was interesting enough. This is personal preference again, but I feel second POV should make the character as gender neutral as possible. It should feel like I’m the star, rather than play the role of someone else.

I do appreciate the risk by combining both POVs into something that, admittedly, seemed convincing. The “you” is a robot assistant, like Jarvis from Marvel so the gender can be anything, like Jarvis and Amazon’s Alexa, only with more personality. I did feel like an AI existing in the world, listening to my owner going through her day. This is one of the better examples of second person POV, so I’ll give it a pass.

Final Thoughts

This is the kind of story that hits close to home for some, but many will compare it to modern day trials and tribulations. A story can touch upon subjects, but I feel that this sort of message can reach a lot of people. We may have different opinions on the matter, but seeing a touching story like this is worth it to understand what some of them go through on a daily basis. Without Exile is a wonderfully told story, simple yet effective, with a powerful dynamic between two alien people who both want what’s best for the other.

While the second and first person fusion didn’t win me over, the story itself did. It’s easily one of my favorites so far, and there’s been a lot since I’ve started that it’s becoming stiff competition. If you want a simple read that’ll tug at the heartstrings, this story will do it. No matter who you are, this story will make you listen.

So what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.


That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.

If you have any suggestions for future topics and reviews, hit me up on my social media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond. Your feedback is what keeps me going, so thank you for supporting me.

My paid short story: Do Not Stare Into The Eyes of a Kitsune, is now available for prepurchase. The story will be available on June 5th, 2018. I posted a preview here and will post excerpts on my social media channels.

Note: Current outlets are limited as of yesterday, but will appear when approved. Keep checking back when yours isn’t listed.

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Ready Player One Movie Review

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Ready Player One Movie Review

So we’re here. The movie’s out and people can see the virtual world of OASIS for themselves. It’s been a long time coming and having seen the film, I can say I came away satisfied.

So this movie is from the legendary Steven Spielberg, Director of Indiana Jones, E.T., and Jurassic Park. Knowing that, I came in optimistic. Having seen it, while I can’t say it’s up there, it’s a great film that gives the nerd world it’s triumphant victory. The world of Ready Player One is the ultimate tribute to nerds. The amount of nods to old and new franchises is the one big highlight, only because it shows that the people involved get it, understand us nerd.

So now, let’s get underway and I’ll give my thoughts on the movie.

 

The Movie

I won’t go into the plot, since my previous review does that, but it involves the main character, Wade Watts, AKA Parzival, who is hunting for the three keys that will lead him to the Easter egg James Halliday left behind. As far as the movie itself, the plot is roughly the same. And by that I mean the structure is similar. The three keys have hard challenges and the final battle at the end.

The movie itself was great. A lot of the situations were beautifully done and the characters were memorable and had a ton of personality. A few characters got a little more development, such as I-Rok, who has a larger role in the film. Also, it feels real. Even if the characters were CGI, it felt like a legit video game world, kind of like watching a movie by a video game developer. None of it looked fake because it was a video game. It felt like a cinematics team from a video game company.

It felt amazing to see all the situations, such as Art3mis surprising Parzival by being Goro from Mortal Kombat and having a xenomorph baby pop out of its chest. Also, the interactions between Art3mis and Parzival was better in the movie than in the book. The book was more or less them being rivals while in here, the two ended up being good friends, along with Shoto (referred to as Sho in the movie) and Daito being close friends.

I-Rok also got a bigger role and he’s the kind of character that doesn’t care in the slightest, and that’s what makes him better in the movie than in the book. It did seem like he would go to Sorrento’s side, but I wish the book expanded on him a little bit more.

I should mention the one gripe people apparently have. The numerous references to pop culture. It has a bunch of famous figures that it’d take a multi-page word document to list them all, but I will give a few.

  • Hello Kitty and Sanrio characters
  • Master Chief from Halo
  • Battletoads
  • Ninja Turtles
  • Gundam
  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Akira
  • The DeLorean from Back to the Future.
  • Tracer from Overwatch
  • Jim Raynor from StarCraft
  • King Kong
  • MechaGodzilla
  • Chucky from Child’s Play
  • Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes

I can go on, but it’d take forever and that’s barely scratching the surface. Some people are tired of seeing how many there are, but I wasn’t bothered by them. It just makes it all the more exciting seeing pop culture get so much care and attention.

The book had even more. Ultraman, for example, but I imagine this must have been such a logistical nightmare trying to get the rights to all the films. I’ll get to differences in a bit, but I wasn’t bothered by the references. It’s a film about nerdy pop culture like the book was, and I appreciate it going all out with this.

 

Differences between the book and the movie

Now, let’s get to how different the book was to the movie. As far as structure, the movie is very similar to the book. The three keys, the dance, Wade’s home in the stacks being blown up. All of it follows the book pretty closely. However, a few significant differences exist between the two. While I won’t go over everything, I will cover the notable differences.

First, the first key in the book is a challenge between Acererak from the Tomb of Horrors module of Dungeons and Dragons, where Parzival faces him in the classic game, Joust. Here, it’s a big race where numerous hazard can kill their avatar in one fell swoop. This was more exciting to watch and it seems a little fairer than the obscure leaps of logic in the book. However, I felt a race was too easy. Yeah, I can’t win with that, but it was exciting and a little creative to watch Parzival figure it out all of the secrets.

The second was a recreation of Stanley Kubrick’s famous film, The Shining, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. While not 100% exact, it was reminiscent of the WarGames sequence and the Monty Python sequence in the books. I like the nod to that whole bit, even though the sequence did feel a little out of place. Having such a classic film portrayed in a VR setting is interesting and I hope such an idea comes to fruition someday.

As for characters, I-Rok and Sorrento got larger roles. I-Rok especially since in the book, he only existed so that Parzival and Aech can shut him up. In the movie, he played the mercenary role to Sorrento, having a fun personality where he’s so aloof and trying so hard to be a badass that it comes off as brilliant. He would always run his mouth in such a nonchalant and serious tone that I smiled every time he appeared.

The climax was far more intense than in the book. A car chase and the final battle with Sorrento threatening to use the catalyst was a nice touch. I kind of wished I’d seen more of that in the book, since Sorrento only appears for a few sequences, even though he has a large role in the climactic battle. In the movie, he’s far more prominent, since the book is told in first person.

I kind of like the climax of this movie better than the book, since the end, Sorrento is just arrested while in the movie, they make a big spectacle out of it.

As far as structure, it’s very similar. If you’re familiar with the book, you’ll enjoy the movie without being lost. Seeing things like “Oh, I remember that scene” pops up a lot.

Minor issues

My only gripe is that I felt the pacing was a little off. Like they tried to cram so much into one movie that it feels both rushed and slow at the same time. Granted, they couldn’t have covered everything and having this be a logistical nightmare to get everyone’s permission to have licensed characters portrayed so well, but I felt they could have pushed it a little longer. It’s not War and Peace, but it is a moderately sized book. I feel that’s what’s different between books and film. In film, you only have a limited time to feature the entire story, whereas books and even TV shows, you can go at whatever pace is best.

Aside from that seeing this in live action felt…odd. It’s not like this is a bad movie. If anything I found it enjoyable and heartwarming as a gamer, but something about it seems strange. Maybe the whole “shoving as many references as possible” bit is starting to get to me, so maybe a rewatch might be necessary.

 

Final thoughts

This is the movie nerds deserve and it’s one that’s not just a celebration of gaming, but pop culture. That’s what the book is as well and to see it captured so well on the big screen, I feel, is a win for nerds everywhere. Yeah, the vocal minority will tear this movie to shreds, but I feel those who love gaming, no matter which side you’re on, seeing this movie is a win indeed, especially after the numerous times so-called “game experts” try to portray those things in real life.

Either way, it becomes a film where you decide if it’s for you. I liked it, so that’s my verdict. Next week, I’ll discuss my history with video games and how it made me into who I am.


That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.

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Fiction Friday: Middle of Nowhere

Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review Middle of Nowhere by Walter Dinjos

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Fiction Friday: Middle of Nowhere

Today’s short story is Middle of Nowhere by Walter Dinjos, as featured in the web publication Abyss and Apex. You can find it here. This is an entertaining story about curses, a messed up village, and the infamous Boko Haram religion. Even with such sensitive material, the story itself is twisted and enjoyable, and this story is a treat.

So let’s take a look.

Bad Juju

The story follows Mazi Ibe (at least I think that’s his name) who is returning home when his bus makes a stop in the middle of nowhere. Born the son of a leader for a division of Boko Haram, his history is one he’d rather forget. However, when a village of strange people placed a hex on him that causes disaster wherever he goes, he has no choice but to enlist his father’s help and take care of the people who cursed him.

I’ve seen these types of stories before, but I rarely see main characters involved with evil organizations and terror groups. I’ve made a character a long time ago who was like that, but it’s one I don’t see that often, let alone done as well as in this story. It adds depth to the character, like being the son of a mafia don making ends meet.

It adds a sense of mysticism to what is a modern African society, using Smartphones and what not (Mazi’s area doesn’t have 4G yet, at least in this story). This world of old and new is always interesting to see.

I felt a little more could have been added since the main character glances over details a bit. The wedding is basically exposition, but for the most part, I followed along. A story of vengeance and love, this does feel like the traditional mafia story. It has all of the parts, a main character whose father is a leader of a dangerous organization, marrying someone who isn’t related to them, using said organization to take care of his enemies and so on.

I didn’t think of it while reading, but looking at it now, I definitely like the twist on a classic Godfather-style world. These are the kinds of unique takes I look for in stories, especially from non-American cultures.

The Son of an Evil Organization

That said, this isn’t a story I see often. Even if the character is relatable and for the most part innocent, it is a wild ride for him. His life is forever ruined by the constant display of curses killing those he never meant to harm, so he calls his father, who also suffer from his curse.

This feels like a movie in the making. Something that, while not an Oscar-winning epic, could make several million and gain a following. I love seeing stories that I feel could work as adaptations, especially short stories. This feels like a wonderful idea that I could see working.

The relation with his father is the kind I find interest in, and while he is part of a notorious religious organization, I didn’t see any sort of cruel animosity and general villainy I usually see in him. Again, he’s like the mafia don. He’s not evil, but he can cause a colossal amount of chaos and doesn’t need to be pure evil to get what he wants. They’re some of my favorite archetypes. Yes, the two don’t get along, but that’s what makes me like this duo so much.

Mazi sees him as a last resort, someone he hates but has to rely on him. Also, he can kill two birds with one stone. Kill those who afflicted him with the juju curse, and extinguish the arm of Boko Haram at the same time. The ending, however, is left ambiguous and that’s the only disappointment, but it’s an overall wonderful story.

Final Thoughts

With all of that out of the way, I want to finish this that while it’s a good story, it’s simple. Simple, yet fun and those are the kinds of stories I have a soft appreciation for. It doesn’t have to be artsy or be super descriptive, it just has to tell me a story about a character in a dire situation and how he solves things. Sometimes, that’s a style that works. I do recommend this story, so do read it when you get the chance.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.


That’s all for today. Take care, watch out for black cats, and remember, the inn is always open.

If you have any suggestions for future topics and reviews, hit me up on my social media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond. Your feedback is what keeps me going, so thank you for supporting me.

As a reminder, my website-exclusive short story, My Cat Is A Monster, is now live. My first paid short story, Do Not Stare Into The Eyes of a Kitsune, debuts June 5th, 2018. See a short excerpt here. Keep an eye on my blog for more updates and my social media channels for news and excerpts from the upcoming story.

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Coming Attractions: A Preview Of “Do Not Stare Into The Eyes of a Kitsune”

It’s time again. Time to keep the momentum going and introduce a brand new short story coming soon or most ebook platforms. This is also a learning process for me, so forgive me if there are a few bumps along the way.

So this short story takes place in late 1800s Japan at the height of Commodore Perry’s famous voyage. Our hero, Shiro Kawamoto, is living life as a hunter, getting fox meat for his boss. However, Americans are hunting as well, and their recklessness causes them to taint the forest with dead animals they’ve killed and skinned needlessly. This attracts a kitsune who tells our hero to get rid of them or suffer her wrath.

As I’ve mentioned a few times before, it’s a love letter to my love for anime. I’ve been a huge fan of anime and Japanese culture. So I wanted to showcase my love with this short story. It’s also to show that I can write about all types of characters and worlds and that nothing is off limits. This is the beginning of a new moment for me as my author career truly begins. I’m still hard at work on my first novel, but it’ll still be a while before I can get it out there.

So for now, here’s a preview of my paid short story, Do Not Stare Into The Eyes Of A Kitsune. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.

NOTE: The below excerpt might be a little graphic, but this is as gruesome as it gets in the entire story. Just a heads up.

Continue reading

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