Category Archives: writing

Good progress recently

After weeks of bottling up various ideas and feeling blocked or uninspired, I got down to work again. My massive editing and rewriting pass had stopped at the end of Chapter 3 of Scout’s Journey, half a year ago, and the next two chapters were a mess of stuff in my head, especially Chapter 5. I knew where I wanted to go with it all, but couldn’t put it in a mental order that I could have written down. And I had gotten some feedback that challenged me to make my characters more distinctive. So I kinda started very loosely rewriting a scene in Chapter 1 where my two protagonists (Scout herself and the main impact character) have their first one-on-one. This was a place where I could lay on some more character. I carried that around for a couple days, then got down to sorting it out and editing it down. It was OK. I was actually working again.

Next thing, I had one of those moments where you wake up with a completely new scene in your head that goes in the place of an old one. But this was so much better. It was the part of the game where Scout is introduced. At first this new scene appeared very unlike everything else, except Scout was fully characterized in two and a half pages and like 10 lines of dialogue. It was too good to be true. Sometimes inspiration strikes out of the blue and gives you a huge puzzle piece that you were only dimly aware you needed. But boy, this does a heck of a lot to kickstart Scout’s entire character. And it really drives everything that happens in Chapter 1.

Around the same time, I had another idea that kinda pulls in an important stringer in a layer of the game that has to do with Scout’s ability to connect with a character who becomes a major ally. The key here was that Scout can do something that otherwise, only children can. It’s like she has access to a part of her mind that allows her to do pretty unique things. This was very easy to integrate, it required rewriting a couple lines only, but at the same time it was like putting an additional steel I-beam into a building that really reinforces the entire thing. Afterwards I didn’t understand how I could have missed that –  everything I had previously written was so close to the right place but the spark just didn’t connect. Well, it’s done now.

Then, Chapter 4 started to assemble itself into something that made a lot of sense. Chapter 4 is very focused on Scout and her exploration, stealth and combat abilities. Real first person action stuff, with not a lot of story interference and almost a feel of loneliness to it. This makes for a nice contrast with Chapter 3, which is unusually story heavy with several factions and a dozen characters colliding like a car crash among a lot of scripted stuff. So I really started to lose my doubts about the chapter sequence – giving the player all that freedom and even having an extended FPS sequence at the end of Chapter 4 is a good thing at that point in the game. The player is going to be like, “let me play!” after Chapter 3, and this should just deliver nicely.

But I only sketched it out for now, I’m gonna do the actual rewrite later, because I got real busy with Chapter 7, which is to say, the endgame. I got it to the point where the end kinda mirrors the beginning, which was one of the criticisms I had gotten – that the end didn’t work. Well, it does now.

I got Chapter 5 buzzing around my head – it’s another exploration heavy thing with a main storyline quest that spans the entire game world – but I haven’t done much rewriting yet. I wrote a new chapter ending because a main thing needed to be foreshadowed for the new ending. I guess I’ll just splatter it all over the page and then clean it up some time from now. I decided against Scout having a romance option in there though, it’s just not that kind of game. Otherwise it’s currently like a ball of yarn needing to be unravelled.

Anyway, that’s the progress report. It’s not like I’m doing nothing. I’m surprised that the middle chapters are such a bitch to get right, but I’m closing in on them. I’ve got Chapters 1-3 and 7 largely done and major inroads into 4, 5 and 6.

Phew.

 

 

 

 

 

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Looking at it like this

Here’s a blurb I wrote for a writing discussion elsewhere to describe the way I handle the “chosen one” trope in Scout’s Journey, but I thought better of it and posted it here for your amusement and to jog my memory. Because I found this the first pretty apt description of it that I wrote. It almost gives me a new perspective.

“She is brought in unaware by forces outside her control, who intend her to be a sacrifice to a Big Bad. The player learns this before she does. Along the way, it turns out that she does have a skill, making friends with people who looked like certain enemies, thus kicking off a conflict in the enemy faction which ends up helping her. Through sheer curiosity, she makes contact with someone who is equally lost, and who turns out to be Big Bad’s nemesis. She only learns this through open-mindedness and careful listening. The prophecy comes in the form of a children’s story. This nemesis has to be freed from an age of imprisonment; as for what she ends up having to do, she only understands right when Big Bad gets his paws on her.”

In other news, I got the flu, and it sucks. I forgot how much it sucks.

Take care guys, and whack a nazi for me when you see one. Seriously, what’s going on with the world?

 

 


No “Mary Sue”

After learning what people mean by “Mary Sue”, I took this test for Scout, my protagonist, and scored extremely low (4 points; 16 before applying “de-suifiers”).

Yes, she figures in an otherworldly prophecy. But hey, she’s a protagonist. I guess she’s solid.

In other words, yes, the writing slavery goes on.


Yep, why not have two

It has recently come to pass that another conlang (artificial language) was added to Scout’s Journey. There are two talking alien factions, so…

It’s an interesting challenge to make aliens talk believably. Luckily, the two factions are quite different; one is militaristic, invasive and arrogant, the other is comparatively peaceful and spiritual. I find these two contrasting characters make it easy to form words and sentences that have different tones to them.

Here’s some examples from Language A:

 

HASTINGS
(at the top of his lungs)
Etoye, ido ota’a dulzug, ashide sharug’a!
Listen, we are not enemies, we are allies!

 

ABBOT
Hasuka’a gise gosiden.
Praised be the Eater of Stars.

 

VANDRELL
Ashik dor dulzug’a.
See, the enemy is there.

 

BORTAS
Hata, shidu ota dolyug.
Yeah, it’s an attack.

 

SCOURGE SERGEANT
Ido akocha!
Show no mercy!

 

SCOURGE SOLDIER
Falridoye asukh.
Take cover, firing.

 

And here’s Language B:

 

KINGFISHER
A silute eske onomite naanutat, omote.
The stars are beautiful tonight, Grandfather.

 

KINGFISHER
Ho kete ta?
What does she want?

 

STAR-­GAZER
(deadpan)
Kenu’t skei-­hostut etet.
She wants to find the Scourge.

 

KINGFISHER
Ho wa ketah ta?
What is her name?

 

STAR­-GAZER
Ote wa menut kite.
She who finds the way.

 

KINGFISHER
Eska minu ketah.
Good name.

 

While I wrote a bunch of grammar for the first one and tried to stick to it, I tend to just wing it with the second one. Once I write banter for their battle groups, I might have to lay down some rules though.

This might seem like overkill, but it’s actually really fun to do. And it makes the game world more plausible.

Technically, there is a third alien faction, but they’re insects. I’ll probably let them use a pure click/noise language. Maybe gestures, too.


Getting to know you

Time for an update.

There’s not much new on the Western front. I’ve been in another extensive rewriting and editing process on the Scout’s Journey script. To put it simply, it’s getting a lot better. I think it might end up really good. I’m still totally convinced of the characters and the plot. There’s gold in there, I just have to bring it out and make it shine.

Yes, it’s still a back-breaking process. It’s like going to the desert to find your vision AND learning basic survival skills at the same time.

Anyway, there’s something worth telling. I talked to a friend because I’m having trouble writing Scout’s character, especially her emotions and how she reacts when confronted with obstacles. I ended up doing a Myers-Briggs personality test and answered 100 questions while channeling Scout’s mindset, as if I was acting out her personality. Lo and behold, it was very interesting.

Scout is an INFP-T personality type according to the test. This means introverted, intuitive, feeling and prospecting, as opposed to more rational/assertive behaviour. This type belongs to the diplomat group and is called the healer or mediator. Only 4% of people share this personality.

Put simply, it could mean Scout has trouble with social activities or keeping down a regular job, tends to take things too personally and think too much of others instead of herself (in the game, she actually has a kind of performance anxiety, which is fitting). On the upside, she is guided by very strong feelings about right and wrong and can be supernaturally determined and adaptive if she actually discovers a worthy cause. She is a troubled, outwardly weak-looking person initially underestimated by others, but turns into an unstoppable guided missile under certain conditions.

Funnily enough, this is exactly what happens in the script. So I guess that is coherent and I managed to write that personality type relatively well so far without actually thinking about it in psychological terms.

The questionnaire and the analysis will certainly make her even more fun to write.

So just you know, there is progress being made, just nothing that could be expressed in screenshots unfortunately. We’ll return to that later.

Well, here’s one. Scout’s test result.

scout_personality


What Writing Does in Game Dev

Time for an update.

Hard facts

On the technical side, I’m now working on a new PC that should be Unreal-capable. We’ll see when I get that running, I might feel inspired to start porting the first level to Unreal.

Truth is, as may be obvious in hindsight, that the switch away from the Quake engine was more of an obstacle than it should have been. I lost the ability to quickly prototype. But in the end, it’s better for the project. It may look like the old Daikatana mistake, but there’s a difference. This is not 1997 and Quake doesn’t cut it anymore, not in the face of Unreal, Unity and Cryengine. So I still feel the switch was necessary and justified.

It’s simply a fact of life that the FTE engine was too buggy, that I couldn’t do the things I needed to do, and that every time I broke one of those invisible Quake-technology walls I ended up in a minefield of untested things prone to failure. So while the engine switch did end up hurting the project, there really was no alternative. There is Darkplaces, but that would have meant another risky wager that a largely untested engine based on 1996 tech would be better suited than the first one. It just didn’t seem like a smart thing to do.

We’re slowly coming up, by our own boot-straps if you will, to a state where we can likely do a hopefully soft landing on a different platform. One of the environments was already dropped into Unity just to see what happens. Turns out it’s very doable. Unreal won’t be that different.

So engine wise, cutting the cable sort of spun me into a different orbit. Which took some time. Not least because I was busy thinking about more fundamental things.

Squishy stuff

Of course that’s not what most of the development time was sunk into over the last two years or so. People tend to not understand why all this writing is necessary. I won’t go into it much further, just know that the script basically IS the game, just minus the technical implementation side. It is simply the case that the style of game development I’m currently doing is so far removed from Quake modding that there’s not even any common ground I could use to explain it to that crowd.

We’re talking apples and oranges. Quake modding is largely mechanical. Change a line of code, and you’ll make the grenade launcher spit voreballs instead. Yay. The communication problem simply lies in the fact that modding Quake’s pineapple launcher and making a game like Scout’s Journey are two different universes. It’s like the language isn’t even the same.

The entire paradigm has changed. In late 2013, Scout’s Journey was basically a Quake mod that started to mightily rattle the cage. Development was largely writing code and painting textures, blocking in level geometry or modelling weapons. Roughly the stuff we did in Remake Quake, plus new problems such as doing terrain, being a lot more detailed and breaking the BSP visibility stuff to get it running fast enough. Very down to earth stuff in gamedev terms.

Real game development in 2016 is a completely different thing.

Scout’s Journey development isn’t based around just going in and writing code or smacking brushes together. It is turned inside out, or rather, right side out. The mechanical aspect of code and polygons is only an extension of the ephemeral core that is plot and design. This brings with it the realization that scriptwriting is in fact the new engine room. Not 3D modelling suites and not level editors and not IDEs.

The holy trinity of Scout’s Journey style game development are actually writing, art and programming, with the latter two being extensions of the former. Which is how it should be. It is a common complaint by game writers that companies are trying to tack on some writing on the tail end of an already half finished game. That is doomed to fail, and is what I’m NOT doing.

Simply put, a lot more development happens BEFORE the art and code stages. This is akin to saying, “hold on a moment, put down whatever tool you’re using and start actually thinking.” And this is the opposite of the modding mentality, which is “I’ll just go in and do this…”

Game development SHOULD start with writing. Unless it’s Pong or Tetris.

Translation

bzzz02

As an example, this lightning monster cage thing (from Remake Quake, around 2011?) was a result of the “I’ll just do something cool” approach. No doubt that approach is a valuable tool. But Scout’s Journey then takes something like this and turns it into that:

#script

An apparatus, like two half-moons made of humming electrodes, seems to draw energy from the creature itself in periodical crackling flashes. Hoses and cables stuck in the creature are drawing its blue ichor, in a slow drip, into a large glass vial.

Scout slowly wanders around it, circling the cage. She wonders, ”What is this thing doing?” Big Bear says, ”Whatever it is, keep your hands off of it. You’ll just run into trouble again.” The goddess speaks up: ”May I look through your eyes?” ”You may.” Scout gazes at the entire contraption. The goddess says, ”This right here says to me: Naruuk, the Star-Eater was here.” Scout keeps circling the machinery. The camera moves in large sweeps.

”He hates me because I’m of the Earth, and he thinks the Earth his slave and spits on it. It is the same with the Luminar. You know now that there are many worlds. And just like that, Nature finds a way to protect them, and tend to them. That is what the Luminar do. They are weavers of the great web. Holy servants of Nature.”

Scout fearfully reaches out to touch the creature. It doesn’t respond.

”They’re killing them”, Scout says. The goddess replies, ”Yes, they’re killing them. For fear, for greed, for negligence, they’re killing them.”

/script

So the idea of the shambler cage is still in there, just minus Quake’s shamblers, obviously. That’s because instead of monsters, Scout’s Journey has just another faction of intelligent beings that happen to be victimized by the real antagonist (and pissed off about it). Who, needless to say, was more than a little inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “elder gods” and so forth. I mean, with a name like “the Star-Eater.” And this, especially once Scout (and the little voices in her head)  encounter it, creates something more interesting than a random eye catching landmark on a Quake level. Basically, something like the shambler cage just makes the player say “neat” and move on to kill more monsters. The cage in Scout’s Journey has become much more than that. It became an anchor point for story, characters, philosophy, conflicts and what have you.

A whole lot of the stuff I did in Remake Quake was the nucleus for ideas that turned into something meaningful in Scout’s Journey, but only because of the writing.

The next step, after writing it out like the example above, is to turn it into new concept art (the cage won’t look quite the same, the size relations are different, the meaning is more complex) and only then modelling it, putting it into a level, and coding stuff like particle effects.

A lot of similar features and landmarks from my Remake Quake levels did survive into Scout’s Journey, just laden with different meaning.

Hopefully this gives people an idea what the writing phase is good for and what can be done with it. It’s like metamorphosis.

That’ll be it for now. In the interest of better understanding what is going on behind the sometimes slow-moving blog. The writing is unfortunately not as photogenic as simply posting assets.

Oh, and because the world is what it is: I call dibs on my own script. All rights reserved.


Look who it is!

Scout with sig

Hello Scout, you lovely freckled explorer you…

Ultra thank-you to my writer friend Dan O’Donnell – and his artist friend (love the style!) – for gifting me this.

This is the best.

Thanks so much. It’s rare to get this cool a present. I love how she seems to have all the cool in the world here.

Really inspiring.

Click here for larger version!