Musings on Nonexistent Peace and Writing in General

I have been lacking with blog topics so I thought I’d share some background, foreground, and wandering thoughts about Nonexistent Peace, which you can read what’s completed of it here.  Maybe this post will motivate me to write more of it.  As for you, the person reading this, maybe it will get you interested in reading what I have already written of Nonexistent Peace and/or offer a glimpse into the horrifying way that my brain ticks and tocks.

The first thing to know is that Nonexistent Peace is a working title of sorts.  How could an author, any author, possibly come up with a fantastic and meaningful title for a story when they themselves don’t even have the full thing solidified in their head yet?  In fact, if you read the prologue of the story, you should be able to spot the line that the title comes from.  If you want my honest opinion, I hate that title.  Of course, it’s not like I can think of anything better at this juncture.

Now then, to delve a bit deeper into my thoughts, I’d like to mention that Nonexistent Peace isn’t the “first book”.  I tend to think of grand things and in my head there is a whole book that takes place before this one.  I have just decided it is less interesting than my plan for Nonexistent Peace.  That “first book” (do you feel as silly reading that phrase as I do typing it?) is a much slower introduction to this world than the crash course Nonexistent Peace will be.  I personally believe the crash course is more exciting, more engaging.  On the other hand, it’s harder to write, having to introduce things while not shoving to much down a readers throat at one time. I guess I just like challenges.

You may be wondering how Nonexistent Peace comes off of another book and you would be correct to wonder.  As of Chapter 1 Part 1 of Nonexistent Peace, which is as far as I have written at the time of writing this blog post, there’s no lead in from the “first book” present yet.  Juli and Casi are completely new introductions to this world I’m building.  It’s Chapter 1 Part 2 that continues off the “first book”.  Dylan (such a plain name after Juli and Casi isn’t it, there’s a reason for that)… as I was saying, Dylan gets introduced in the next section of Nonexistent Peace and he’s the bleed over from that “first book”.

This may be why I’ve been dreading (and avoiding) writing this next section for Nonexistent Peace.  How much of Dylan’s back-story should I tell?  How much do I need to tell?  Should I put it all up front or leave some for later?  I get the feeling that there’s a lot I can fuck up.

And then there’s this other problem with how stories in my head exist.  Some people outline, others spend months making timelines and getting as many details in place as possible.  I can’t work that way.  Stories in my head are this ever changing mass of ideas with what I guess you could call guiding points.  I have these points in my head of how the story should progress.  These points are targets, some are big plot points and some smaller things that I need to guarantee get covered.  Even these targets are sometimes in flux and not completely decided upon.  It would be an understatement to say that it’s a challenge to guide this world and these characters in my head in such a way that both makes sense and hits these targets.

I suppose my main point about my writing is that, while I have a set of target that I’m aiming for, each individual section is mostly made up on the spot.  Sometimes I think I feel as lost, as unsure and unknowing, writing a section as people feel reading it, and I hope that’s not a bad thing.  I so very hope it’s not.

Your humble author,

Firefly Could Never Have Been As Good As It Is Now

I recently was able to watch the movie Serenity from start to finish for the first time.  Over the years I had been able to catch bits and pieces of it on TV, but I had never seen the whole movie until the other night.  Earlier this year I was also able to sit down and watch all of Firefly from start to finish, in the order intended.  I have to say, the Firefly series, along with the movie Serenity, is some of the best motion picture I’ve seen put to film.  It pulls you in with its wit and tantalizes you to stay with its atmosphere.  I can see why it has become so popular, and I think Fox is an idiot for letting it die so early.

With that out of the way, there is one thing I have come to realize about Firefly.  If the series had continued, it would never have turned out as enchanting and wonderful as it currently is right now.  No matter how popular it became or how many seasons the show ended up running, it would never compare to what it is now.  Because, what Firefly became isn’t just fourteen episodes and a movie.  It became a legend.

Whether through accident or design the creators of Firefly accomplished something amaze.  They gave us a taste and then cut us off.  What we got a taste of, this universe they had begun to craft, was filled with just enough of a hint at a huge unknown structure behind the curtain.  You got a sense that this world ticked in a crooked, but logical, matter.  When the show was canceled there was just enough there to make everyone’s imaginations run wild, but not enough to answer all the questions.  And that’s the key.

In each and every fan’s mind, Firefly is bigger and better than it ever would or could have been.  The official cannon for the show is rather small compared to most, but ask yourself, how big does it feel when you think about it?  How deep does that rabbit hole go in your mind, and how much of the gaps has your imagination attempted to filled in with ideas and theories?  That universe you have in your head is much bigger, much grander, and much better than anything a group of show writer ever could have written.

Cause isn’t that what makes the Firefly universe so intriguing?  Not what’s there in the shows, but what could have been?

The Beautiful World Of Tyria (Guild Wars 2 Screenshots)

In my short time playing Guild Wars 2, during the beta and recent stress test, I’ve gotten into a habit of taking screenshots.  I’ve taken more screenshots in my short time playing Guild Wars 2 than in most other games combined.  The world of Tyria, with its numerous gorgeous sites, just begs to have pictures taken of it.

This week, I thought I’d share a few of those screenshots.  Below you’ll find my ten best from yesterday during the short stress test.  If you want to see a few more check out my post on exploration from last week.

The Lion’s Arch loading screen.

Three Asura gates leading to World vs World in Lion’s Arch.

An overlook on a bridge in Lion’s Arch.

The lion statue located in the center of Lion’s Arch.

Asura gates in Lion’s Arch leading to various parts of Tyria.

Approaching a World vs World keep in the Eternal Battlegrounds.

A view from atop some rocks near the World vs World keep pictured above.

A World vs World vista of the same keep pictured above.

The view from the actual vista point of the above keep vista in World vs World.

A vista of a tower in World vs World.

Exploring The Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get my hands on a beta key for the final Guild Wars 2 beta weekend.  I have to say, I was very impressed.  I had a lot of fun exploring the world and getting a feel for the game.  And the feel I got was one of exploration.

Guild Wars 2

Everything in Guild Wars 2 seems to be structured for exploring.  The world is filled with things to do.  Nothing shows this more than the way quests are setup.  In Guild Wars 2 you don’t get a quest from some static NPC who sends you on errands.  Instead, you explore the world, and as you explore you bump into quests along the way.  These quest are marked on your map as hearts and require no prerequisites.  They are open to any that wander into the area.  You don’t even need to accept them, instead a small notification of what to do appears in the corner of your screen and you can either do the objective or ignore it and move on.

For the first time in an MMO I wasn’t juggling quests in a journal, or running around collecting a task list from people with magic exclamation points floating above their heads.  Quest completion happened organically and naturally as I ran across them while exploring.  In the rare event I ran out of known heart quests to complete, I’d just pick a section of the map I hadn’t yet explored and trek off into the unknown to find more content.

Even as you traverse between known heart quests you might be in for a surprise along the way.  Periodically, semi-random events occur in your vicinity that you may join in on.  Like heart quests, you can ignore them if you wish, but it’s fun  to join in and experience something new.  These events help keep things fresh, even in areas you’ve traveled through before.

The Pale Tree vista in The Grove

Beyond quests, Guild Wars 2 helps give you more variety with challenges and vistas.  Challenges are what they sound like, small challenges to complete.  For completing them you gain a skill point which can be used to unlock better skills.  Vistas on the other hand are eye candy, very pretty eye candy.  They usually consist of climbing and platforming in order to reach a vista point.  Once activated, a vista point shows a short video showcasing the surrounding area.  There’s a small experience reward earned toward your next character level, but the sightseeing can be all the reward you need.  Both challenges and vistas are oriented toward exploring, enticing you to go out of your way to experience them.

Finally, there’s the glue that holds the whole thing together, your personal story.  Your personal story is the only set of traditional quests that I saw in the game.  Essentially one long quest chain, your personal story helps point you to areas that you should explore.  If you only did your personal story, ignoring all other content, you’d quickly find that it’s too hard for your level.  Instead, what I ended up doing is what I believe you’re supposed to do.  On the way to each new part of my personal story I did all the heart quests and events I ran into.  Playing this way I was able to always be the appropriate level for the current section of my personal story while also getting the variety of doing other activities.

A world vs world vista

It was a wonderful feeling just to explore the world and complete whatever I happened to run across.  Even the player vs player mode World vs World (WvW) was somewhat structured this way.  It took a little more work to determine where I was needed in order to help my fellow players, but even WvW is filled with heart quests, events, vistas, and challenges.  This is where I spent most of the last day of beta, wandering around WvW, helping siege and defend key positions, each with their own player triggered and player driven events.  I didn’t want to stop.

With how much fun I had during my short time exploring Guild Wars 2, I can’t wait to be able to explore it more upon release.  And, with no subscription fee, I can see myself playing this game off and on for years to come.

The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series

What started as a comic book, and more recently a show, has been adapted to the media of video games.  The Walking Dead is an action adventure game by the developer Telltale Games.  What they have created is, in my opinion, one of the best adventure games you’ll ever play with a story that will keep you entertained from start to finish.

The Walking Dead

In The Walking Dead you play as Lee Everett, a man convicted of killing his wife.  The story starts in a police car as a chatty officer drives Lee to jail.  The game quickly acclimatizes the player to the game’s controls and reveals a few details about the protagonist before the car crashes and Lee is thrown into the dangerous world of a zombie apocalypse.  After awaking from the crash, and surviving his first few zombies, he meets Clementine, a young girl who lost her parents.  Everett takes her in and, together, the story continues on.

For an adventure game, the pacing is quick and dirty.  The feel you get as you’re playing is that of split second decisions and sometime even panic.  Almost every choice is timed, from conversations, to panicked zombie encounters.  It’s all structured to keep you on your feet and force you to make snap decisions.  Decisions which matter.

That’s where this game shines, the decisions.  While each decision may not affect the story in massive plot determining ways, they do follow you throughout your journey.  And most of these decisions aren’t black and white.  Instead, they are morally gray, and while you can stay morally clean for awhile, at some point you will need to get your hands dirty.  This is where Clementine comes in.  She helps serve as a moral compass, a harsh world seen through the naive eyes of a child, and sometimes it can be hard to explain to her why you needed to do what you did.  In videogames, when a character is put into your charge, it’s rare that they become anything more than an annoyance.  You will care about Clementine, I know it didn’t take long for me to grow to like her.

Lee and Clementine

While many decisions are moral, some are just error prone.  Near the end of episode 2 I failed a decision that had nothing to do with morality and every to do with just failing what I was trying to accomplish.  And when I failed, the game didn’t show me a game over screen, it just moved on, leaving me to deal with the consequences down the road.

These consequences come from of each of your decisions, customizing your story in very personal ways.  Characters will remember if you saved them at an earlier point, or if you let their family members get eaten.  They remember if you badmouthed them, or if you supported a decision they make.  Even things said in benign conversations can crop up later on.  In my play through I had a grumpy old man attempt to leave me for dead because I’d argued with him earlier, only to be saved moments later by a guy who’s son I’d saved.  It’s these moments that, though they might not alter the big picture, make the story feel very personal to you.

In the end, with The Walking Dead, Telltale Games has created a game where everyone will know the same plot points, but everyone will also experience a completely different story.