Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bark: I AM WINNER!



Finally, I can officially call myself a Winner. I'm going to give it another week (even though I finished the first draft nearly two weeks ago) and then have a go at the second draft. But right now I think I can feel justly proud of myself, and I have the png file to show for my efforts.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bark: Hymn To The Immortal Wind

I've been spending much more money than usual on CDs lately, and my latest acquisition dropped through my letterbox from Play this morning.

My buddy Matija (a fellow former WoW player) tipped me off about these chaps a week or two back, and obviously, since my music tastes are about a decade behind most normal people, I'd never heard of them. Mono are a Japanese post-rock band, who've apparently been fairly huge for around the last ten years. I picked up Hymn To The Immortal Wind after listening to a couple of its tracks on their Myspace site, and the album's really nice - kind of a cross between Mogwai and Michael Nyman. It's a very strong album: easy to listen to, yet lots of variation in mood, intensity and an imaginative use of instruments, blending the use of classical concert instruments with those of a modern rock band. Some tracks (especially Ashes In The Snow, The Battle To Heaven and Follow The Map) are hauntingly beautiful. It'll be keeping me happy while I code macros for the rest of the week, I'm sure.

At the weekend I also picked up some Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, simply because it's about bloody time I did, frankly. Yeah, that's how behind I am. Give me another decade and I might finally get around to buying some Franz Ferdinand...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Byte: What the?

This is probably the last time I'll post about World of Warcraft for the foreseeable future, since my subscription expired while I still had 40% of the Uldar patch to download.

My old State-chum Mark flagged this story up to me this morning, which left me going MUH?

World of Warcraft and Peggle are perfectly wonderful games. Two of my favourites, in fact, but they don't belong together. This could be the first sign that Blizzard are really beginning to lose the plot with WoW.

If I want to play Peggle, I WILL PLAY PEGGLE. I won't load up World of Warcraft and stand around in Orgrimmar or Ironforge challenging people to Peggle duels. It seems utterly futile to me.

It's a little bit like all those 3G mobile phone companies telling you "you can watch TV on your mobile!" I already have a TV for that, thanks. It's built specifically for that purpose and it does a much better job of it than a 2 inch screen on a mobile phone, too.

It's like Blizzard have sat down and thought, "how can we make WoW even more appealing to bored housewives and layabout students? I know - PEGGLE!" And, of course, Pop Cap aren't going to turn down the chance of 10 million people being able to play their game (since some of them will want to go off and buy the standalone version), but it's a bit meta, isn't it? Games within games, real world game meets fantasy world... though I can't help but think that Puzzle Quest would have been a more appropriate choice.

But this story gets me worried about games. When you get this kind of thing happening in a game, my internal alarm bells start to clang and it's a sure sign you're on the express train to Shitsville. Just as well my sub has finished, really.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bark: A wholly inadequate response

:'(

J.G. Ballard has died.

Obituary.

Ballard has been one of my favourite authors over the last few years and one of my greatest influences as a nascent writer of fiction. Super-Cannes ranks up there as one of my very favourite books, and Crash is probably the most disturbing book I've ever read, so Ballard's work will always have an influence on the way I view our increasingly techno-obsessed society. He was one of the first people to see and make the connection that as our level of technological advancement as a civilisation increased, our standards as human beings seem to regress.

"Genius" and "visionary" are two very much over-used labels these days, but I believe that they can be applied to Jim Ballard in the most literal sense.

As a fantastic author, thinker and keen observer of the human condition, Ballard is going to be missed - not least by me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bark: And that's a wrap, people!

I stayed up into the wee hours this morning adding the final few pages to my Script Frenzy. I'll probably regret it this afternoon when the lack of sleep catches up with me, but right now it feels worth it.

One hundred and four pages in just seventeen days. To quote Han Solo, sometimes I amaze even myself...

I mean, daaaaamn. I just wrote a film script (admittedly just a rough first draft) in less than three weeks. It actually ended up a little shorter than I was expecting it to be about a week ago, as I really picked the pace up in the final act on the Star Forge. I'm pleased with my ending as well, since it's less clichéd than the game's "Prodigal Knight" wrap-up and medal ceremony, and the very last scene especially ought to give people a big sentimental uplift - which is necessary because a lot of the film is quite dark.

Now I'm going to convert it to PDF and send it out to a few people to get some feedback (from people who've played the game to see how well they think it sticks to the spirit of the game, but also to a few people who never have and never will play the game, to see how it functional purely as a story and a film). Then I give it a couple of weeks to put some clinical distance between myself and the script as it is now, so that I can do a re-write with a much more objective eye and tighten everything up. I already know that the script has a few weaknesses, particular in the way in the foreshadowing is set up for the big reveal about Revan. I skipped a fair bit of that because I was worried about the overall length. But since the final act turned out shorter than I expected, I can put a lot of that exposition back into the first two acts.

But that's for another day. Today is for feeling rather pleased with myself. I've written a film script, FFS. I might never be able to do anything with it (in terms of making an actual film), BUT I'VE WRITTEN A GODDAMN FILM SCRIPT. Lots of people like to casually mention in conversation that they're writers, only to get immediately embarrassed when people ask what they've written and they have to admit that they've never actually finished anything, not even a short story.

Well, today I actually finished something for once, and it feels great to know that I can do it. Today I finally feel that I've earned the right to call myself a genuine writer. Somehow the games journalism stuff (not to mention the drivel I post here) never really seemed to count. But today I don't feel like a casual keyboard basher anymore. I actually took on a project and gave it a beginning, middle and an end. And hurrah for that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bark: They don't call it a frenzy for nothing

It's been a most productive weekend. I'm eighty-one pages into my film script adaptation of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. That's way, WAY ahead of schedule. I reckon I should be done by this weekend.

In terms of actual text, 81 pages isn't actually a huge amount, only about 18,000 words, but that still surpasses what I managed for last year's NaNoWriMo by quite a significant margin.

It's been hugely fun to write, and I'm just about to embark on the finale, which has been taking form in my head over the last few days. It's going to have a similar form to that of the game, but will differ in quite a few ways in order to make it a little bit more dramatic. I'm pretty happy with the way things have turned out so far, though I did decide in the end to drop HK-47 entirely. His taunts of pathetic meatbags will be missed, but hopefully not too much. Juhani also doesn't make the cut, either - but the galaxy's much better without a mopey cat-woman cluttering up the place.

With fewer characters to fit in, I've been able to flesh out a couple of the supporting players more. Carth is much more likeable - more of a cross between Atton Rand and Malcolm Reynolds, but still with a touch of Carth's whiny angst around the edges. Jolee's playing the Wise Old Man, or Obi-Wan role, but there are parts where he's a little bit too much of a Captain Obvious. I'll probably have to go back and rewrite some of that at some point. Canderous is also a bit on the Captain Obvious side, but I do have a nice twist for him in the climax.

Before I started I was a little concerned as to how I would get on writing the dialogue - given that with screenwriting you have to convey so much more with what is said, rather than what is described - but I have to say, I've not found it nearly as difficult as I thought I would. I've hardly reused anything from the original game. There are a few rare instances, but nearly all of the dialogue is formed from the spirit of what appears in the game, rather than the actual words themselves.

I will be sending out the script to a few select people for honest, no-bullshit assessments. I can't really be a judge of the standard of my own writing (I'm biased, I think everything I do is awesome), so it will be nice to have some feedback and maybe a little bit of ego-puncturing. Having said that, though - I don't think there's a huge amount of flab that could be cut. Certainly, it's been written in a hurry and that will show a lot, but I've tried to keep things tight and follow the screenwriter's mantra: come into a scene late and get out early.

It's been a terrifically enjoyable exercise, though. And I don't say that about writing stuff very often. I could get used to this...

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bark: The Week of Eating Dangerously

Friends and regular readers will know that I'm a pretty keen cook. There are relatively few things I enjoy more than rummaging around a half-empty cupboard and then miraculously transforming its contents into something nutritious and delicious. However, when my good lady is away (like she is at the moment, visiting her parents), I really can't be bothered cooking for one.

So this week I've been living off all sorts of stuff I normally wouldn't eat, like pies with hash browns, chinese takeaways and (for breakfasts that I'd normally skip entirely) toasted crumpets with smooth peanut butter. And I've not exactly been drinking healthily either, since I've had enough beer over the last five days to bathe a blue whale.

Just as well it's a four day weekend coming up, because I'm going to need to spend at least half that in the gym...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Byte: Oh, the humanity!

The comments thread on this RPS piece almost had me wetting myself. Dr_Demento's is my favourite. Well, other than Tei's bizarre-o-comment, that is... Some people just don't understand the whole concept of satire. (though most of the people in the thread do, thankfully)

Maybe I'm veering into meta-commentary here, but the Onion's piece isn't just a satire on the content of videogames, but also the one-dimensional reporting of it in the news media. Anyone who was paying attention in the last 15 years would have known that The Onion is one of the most well-known news media parody sites out there. I really can't fathom how some people have been taking it seriously. Were they not keeping an eye on the headline ticker? No wonder the Daily Mail constantly get up the collective nose of gamers. They're such an overly defensive, poe-faced bunch at times.

Bark: First-generation Gargoyle

If any of you out there have read Snow Crash, then you're going to find this pretty interesting.

Bark: SMASH CUT TO...

I'm pleasantly surprising myself with Script Frenzy. We're eight days in, and I've already clocked up a fairly staggering 44 pages. I think I'm actually going to overrun the 100 page target by a good 10 pages or so, but I've got everything planned out in my head as to how the story is going to work.

Due to time constraints, I've made quite a few significant changes to characters and events in the game, which would no doubt upset quite a few fanboys if this film ever made the light of day. But since annoying fanboys is one of my biggest aims in life right now, that's okay.

SPOILERS BEGIN HERE

One of the biggest changes from the game is that I've aged Mission from a teenager into a woman in her early twenties, basically because I thought having a 14 year old girl zooming about space with a group of 30-plus men was a bit creepy. The more dramatic reason making her older was so that I could set up a classic love triangle between Mission, the protagonist and Bastila. I've also killed off Zaalbar before they even leave Taris, mainly for dramatic purposes ('surely he's not going kill the cute fuzzy-wuzzy?' - yes I am!), but also because (despite looking like one, as my good lady always reminds me whenever she wants me to have a shave) I don't like wookiees that much - and there's not really much you can do with one in terms of characterisation. And given that there simply isn't time in the film to deal with Zaalbar's exile sub-plot from the game, he's otherwise pretty much surplus to requirements.

Carth is also a good deal less angsty in my version of the story, just to make him more likeable, though Bastila wouldn't be Bastila if she wasn't taking haughtiness to noble levels. I haven't had to do too much with Canderous, though he doesn't stick around for long after they get to Dantooine. Jolee makes his appearance as he does in the game - on Kashyyyk - and sticks around from that point. I've not quite gotten there yet, but Jolee's a fun character in the game. He should be nice to write scenes for.

I've cut Juhani and T3-M4 from the story entirely, since like Zaalbar, they're just extra mouths to feed in terms of screen time. They're not strictly needed to drive the plot onward, so I might give them background cameos at some point, but that's about it.

One character I'm not quite decided on yet is HK-47. We're skipping Tatooine entirely, since there's no real reason to have to visit more than one star map in the film. At the risk of a whole internet's worth of Nerd Rage being directed at my inbox, I think I'm going to cut him. I'm loath to do so, given that he has all the best lines in the game, but I'm not sure there's enough slack in the screen time available to be able to do him any sort of justice at all. I'm kind of tempted to conflate his character with that of Calo Nord, as a secondary antagonist, since it makes more sense to have a psycho-killer robot working for the bad guys rather than the heroes, but again, I'm undecided at this point. I'll probably save that decision for a re-write.

SPOILERS END HERE

I'm really amazed at just how well things are going so far. I've even got my ending sorted out, and it's much more bitter-sweet than I originally thought it was going to be. I'm not going to reveal too much now, but let's just say not everyone gets a happy ending...

Monday, April 06, 2009

Byte: ZOMG! W00T!

I was flicking through my subs copy of PC Gamer (Issue 200), when I got to the letters section. I'm scan-reading through when I see a screenshot on page 52 that looks rather familiar, underneath a letter by one of the PCG guildies playing on Steamwheedle Cartel.

I may have just scared the neighbours with some rather delighted screaming. Cheers to Tim, Ross, or whoever it was from PCG who picked it up off the Screenshots thread on the PCG WoW guild forum. You just made my day.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Bark: Röyksopp Forever

Röyksopp's new album turned up from Play this week, in a particularly well-timed move to coincide with the start of Script Frenzy.

If I had to describe it in a word: jaunty. If I had to describe it a horrible, mangled, compound, triple-hyphenated word: HAPPY-HAPPY-JAUNTY-JAUNTY!

I don't know nearly enough about music (unlike some games journalists) to delve into detailed criticism of the album or its individual tracks, but it's had me bounding happily in my chair all week, so it can't be half bad.

Speaking of Script Frenzy, I'm pretty shocked by my progress so far, given that I've written over twenty pages in the last four days. I suspect because it's mainly because I know the game forwards, backwards and sideways, after so many playthroughs, but I think the time I spent 'pre-writing' last week setting out my page and scene plans is really paying off. If I keep going at this rate, I'll be finished well ahead of schedule. As of Sunday, I'll have nine evenings of uninterrupted writing time, which is fantastic. I might even be able to finish up before Fleur gets back from France. I really wasn't expecting it to be quite this easy. But let's not count our poulets just yet... Twenty pages much be a good start, but there's still a long way to go.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Byte: A case of bad timing

The announcement of OnLive's cloud computing service, which hosts videogames on a 'cloud' server farm and then streams the video output down your broadband line for you to play on your PC or via a low-cost TV-console, got a predictably short thrift when people sat down to analyse it last week.

My own thoughts (see the comments thread) on the subject were along the lines of "Remember the Infinium Phantom?" That little exercise didn't exactly end well. Years of development and millions of dollars burned in R&D costs and all they had to show for it was a $120 lapboard. Which I don't think anyone bought.

As you might expect, the response from OnLive has been pretty robust. Shame they chose to make their rebuttal statement on April Fool's Day, though. Probably could have timed that one better...

Bark: Fade in

I stayed up extra late last night for a post-midnight writing session to make a flying start on my Script Frenzy, and wrote five pages of script before I went to bed.

I'm pretty sure what I wrote was total rubbish, but this time (unlike with NaNoWriMo and just about everything else I write) I managed to resist the temptation to go back and rewrite stuff as I went. That's what May is for. So I've almost done my first two day's worth of script within the first couple of hours of the Frenzy. Hopefully I can keep that momentum up and hammer away at the script in a major way while my good lady is off visiting her parents in France next week.

It really helps that I have such a clear idea of how the scenes would work in the film (who says replaying KOTOR a dozen times or more was a total waste of time, huh?), so the words are really flowing at the moment. It also helps that I'm in the kind of mood where I just need to sit down an WRITE, too. I don't know quite yet, but I might actually prefer screenwriting to writing standard narrative prose. I've always had a very visual memory and way of thinking (I used to memorise Physics equations before exams simply by staring at them condensed onto a single side of A4 paper for half an hour before walking into the exam, letting me remember equations simply by visualising the piece of paper - I never would have passed my degree if I hadn't been able to do that), so I can see myself doing a lot more of this in the future.

I'm not sure what I'll do with the script when I've finished the first draft, given that I could never afford to buy the rights to make a film with it, but I suspect I'll selectively distribute it to a few of my writer-y friends, get some feedback on it and do at least one rewrite on it. Then if that's any good, I'll try and do an original script. Who knows? This could be a new career. Hey, you can dream, right?