Archetypes

Tales of the Common Folk provides me with endless delight as it comes together. Not only is it sliding neatly into a good size as development trims out the worst of the excess, but it hits its target so very solidly.
I got a large part of the idea initially from the gypsy tarot deck–better known as “a deck of cards” in most places. While it has well-documented innocent origins and plenty of use for mere entertainment, there remains a dubious character quality to cards and card players. The four suits relate to four different areas of fortune: Spades or work and labor, Diamonds or finances and glory, Clubs or violence and conflict, and last but not least Hearts or romance and relationships.
Fortune Telling is a common con with many charlatans. I would encourage any believers or readers who are on the fence to check out this book which deconstructs many common con artist tricks with stage magic to show how easily taken-in an uninitiated audience member can be. Like Astrology and the horoscope which runs in the local paper, the interpretations of the numbered suits and face cards are generic and interpreted via cold reading or another method of information gathering. It is an expensive and time consuming way of flipping a coin, really, to seek advice from a deck of cards as to what to do next in life.
Still, it is the reflection of the power of stories and our spirits’ ability to fill in gaps that strikes me more than any thought of anger or disdain for those who are involved with charlatanry. Why not tap into the natural human drives toward symbolic reality, openhandedness, and freedom to teach and guide the young and entertain ourselves?
Just like the tarot decks with their Major Arcana, Tales has a number of interpretable characters in the character deck to be used for inspiration or expiry of things in our chests and close to our hearts, able to unite us and bring us closer together as well as sharpening skills when approached with the same exciting causal stride that has always followed a deck of cards. We’re getting the second wave of art coming in now, piece by piece, and it is looking good. It is unusual to want demure cards, but in this case the engine is designed to get you started and then get out of the way as soon as you’re rolling.
Once we finish with it and find a method of production that suits our needs, I look forward to showing you some of my forays into this method of group storytelling.

Published!

The goal of so many dreamers, who stake their hopes upon it.

Well, let me tell you now, young heart: Being published is extremely easy. It also has never mattered so little. Everyone has a book, nowadays. There’s a global competition to write one in a month every Autumn.

What most people do not discuss when they reveal their desire to write a book is that they really crave attention. They want to be approved of, to get the rush of affirmation that being published gives. To see your creation, your thoughts, your work and skill in someone else’s hands, to see them pouring your energy into their very core through the grimoires that you authored. It is something that easily lights a young heart, especially in a creative one.

So if getting published is easy and means very little, you now have to change how you think and redefine your goals, young writer. If you really want that, there are a thousand simpler and easier ways to get it. Go volunteer. Get skilled at something and offer free classes. Or do the hard part and write a book and do the time and invest the energy to get it published and popular. It takes a lot of doing, especially the traditional way, and the publishing industry has its many dirty secrets about just how fair it really is hidden just as deep as Hollywood did before this last year. Money and power go to every system’s head until they break down, and then someone forges a new system and it repeats. Let me give you the best piece of advice I ever got: Don’t publish to be published, publish when you have an effect you want to see happen.

I wrote a full three-hundred thirty-five page book in high school, and had storyboarded another one in middle school and written many of the scenes. I could have attempted to publish either of them, and likely could have gotten enough support and knowhow to succeed and see them up online or in my local bookstores. I did not. I chose not to, even after all the hours typing away, reading fastidiously and fretting over a comma. The only thing it would have done is stroked my ego, because my work was garbage even though the ideas and characters and stories still hold up well to my eye. Just trash. If I had them published, I would have to marry that work as the starting pieces of my writing career.

So here I am, years later, with a book I am proud to have published and out on the market. It is published under a brand that was eager to have it, and I am thrilled to be writing the rest of the series now, one for each of the four seasons. Once I find a place where I want the two stories I wrote in my teenage years to strike for effect—be it money, brand identity, audience-building, teaching, some higher purpose than my own ego—I will go back and rewrite them with the skills I have sharpened and developed and forged anew.

So practice, and never fear being strict in your criticism. Compare yourself with the people who are out there, making money and visiting their rabid fan clubs and signing books to loyal readers. Young heart, curate your future and take your time making sure the foundation is thick and strong and placed upon solid ground.

You will never regret it, and some things cannot be undone or redone as easily as a manuscript. Guard your name and reputation, for once you put something in writing it stays.

Freedom of Visualization

I am nearly done with Scarcity, a game which will be free to download when you sign up for the newsletter. There is plenty to say about it, and I am rather proud of its simplicity and ambiguity of optimization—it is so dynamic, even I cannot figure out the best way to win! Of course, it is not designed to be competitive but rather an experience which can be used to visualize different scenarios.

I began crafting it as an homage to the Great Plains of North America, where the city I grew up in was named after one of the local area tribes and a massive statue stands at the juncture of two rivers to appeal to the heavens that the old ways and the new would flow together in peace and accordance with nature. The flow of the Native American way of life, with its conformity with their resources and deliberate purposefulness and lack of waste, contains so many examples of virtue and prudent habit for the young to learn from and has the benefit of being deeply evocative to the imagination as well. Perhaps we have spaghetti Westerns to thank for that, but it remains there just the same.

In the end, though, Scarcity improved the more I backed off on the deliberate themes from Kansas and Native American culture; why? Strong theme is important for attachment, and you need something to stimulate the brain’s sense of commitment, but why did making it generic make it better both for educational purposes and as a game?

With the lack of clear background, it is easier to discuss many different cultures and historical events and peoples. When I focused my design on one, I limited the capacity for teaching the virtues I was interested in making visible in favor of the details and minutia of a single specific time frame that is easily left in the past as a mystical and long-dusty age. I deeply appreciate that age, but I chose to blur it and leave it out so that the focus can be on the universal, the True, and the useful.

Ancient peoples did not have the luxuries of our infrastructure or our advanced communication practices and the ease and luxury we have in sharing our knowledge. They had to be focused more on what was at hand, taking advantage of windfalls and practicing against privation and disaster. Their constructions frequently could not stand a decade of time much less the centuries of modern architecture, and they needed to pour their energies into rejuvenatory tasks instead of the high-minded explorations we so often find ourselves caught up in. With that came a certain razor’s edge that cut at the unlucky and the pridefully vicious alike: Things like planning ahead and developing mastery and evaluating the capacities and propensities of neighboring tribes were necessary skills for surviving to see the next sunset, some days!

We live our lives full of safety nets, but sometimes when we look too closely for role models or heroes we can miss the powerful story of what our ancestors sacrificed and worked for: to leave for us this wonderful present, this legacy, this now in which we find ourselves. Whether it is the Founding Fathers of our nation or the ancient Stone or Tool Age peoples, it is in looking to the pasts’ virtues that can most help us understand how to live today by identifying what those virtues look like so we can see them in the modern context. While there is value in looking at a specific example, the larger the True thing you are hunting, the further back you must step to see its footprint.

I look forward to hearing you comment on the game when it is released, and to see how you put it to use for fun and profitable engagement with young and old hands alike. Soon!

Writing Exercise – Smashionary

I have been preparing for a couple of upcoming workshop-style betas for my writing courses, and so for today I’m going to share one exercise that isn’t going to make it into those presentations, Smashionary. This is a very simple writing exercise but it does require either a dictionary, vocabulary book, or one of many online random word generators. Here is how it works:

Pick out two random words, and smash them together. That is now the title of the short story you are writing. Like many of the exercises I recommend, I don’t suggest a lot of prewriting—just start writing the first thing to come into your head and keep going for at least ten minutes. If you wind up writing a whole, complete story that’s great, but if you wander off or get lost or wind up only with notes or di Since the words are highly variable, you might be able to really learn what a new or unfamiliar word is through this sort of application which also trains creative thinking.

Here are a few mash-ups if you are eager to get started right now:
Hospital + Spike: Hospike or Spikpital
Boots + Garden: Bogarden or Gardoots
Sign + Sylvan: Sylvign or Sigvan
Hobby + University: Hobbiversity or Univobby

As you can see, they tend to seem quite silly and some naturally glide together while others are more awkward. The title is meant to help stir your mind like a cauldron and get you thinking. Here is where my mind went with the above examples:
– Spikpital: A grim detective story about a small Yankee forest town that hasn’t advanced its medical practices in a century…
– Gardoots: Some sort of small, troublesome creature called a Gardoot. I think I would start writing about the trouble they cause, and then try figuring out what they actually are.
– Sylvign: This title smells like high fantasy and mysterious forests, and makes me think of Tolkein’s Middle-Earth or the hero Sigmund and his dragon.
– Hobbiversity: A social critique or pundit’s scrawl about some sort of universal hobby, some craze that has taken over and is everywhere for the protagonist to struggle against and then at the end another new craze starts up. Maybe something out of the ordinary, like a teacher or a garbage collector is the main character.

It’s an exercise, not a competition or a novel so don’t get too invested and just practice letting the words flow out. Trust me, even if you are at square one with story talent or expression you will develop a good, natural feel as well as a personal style just through practicing, and having a judgment-free time to just practice is awesome for strengthening the skill when you really need to summon it up.

This and many, many other exercises will be in the fully finished course Practice Writing Through Short Stories when it releases, when you can find out why writing short story is the best way to practice all different forms of writing: creative, personal, professional, and persuasive alike!

For today, I rolled up “prevention” (the act of preventing) and “revenant”, and here is

    Prevenant

:

Martin’s ancient frown lines deepened as he looked down into the town square. “It’s been two days and they still are afraid to cut him down. That mob milling about truly is mad with grief.” He turned back and let the velvet curtain fall back, trading the harsh bleak winter light for the softer candelabras that lit his companion’s face as the thin young man shoveled forkfuls of chicken into his mouth.
“Mrf.” He dabbed his face and swallowed twice in quick succession and caught up his silver goblet. “Well father, the celebration of the heir’s birth was only four days ago. He was clearly a monster; probably hired by those meddlesome Ahesna. I’m just surprised his Majesty had him executed so quickly instead of finding out who sent him.”
“That is what concerns me most of all. The King is mad himself; he hasn’t slept since, just sitting and staring out a window or up and pacing as he dictates commands and letters.” The man’s ringed fingers absently found a pastry and he chewed reflectively. “What a misery. To celebrate the long-sought birth of a son—mother and infant both healthy as can be— and then an assassin steals in without subtlety and cuts your dreams to pieces. To think he climbed up the outside wall all that way up to the tower! It is outrageous. Inhuman.”
“They are sure that’s true, then? All the talk among the caravans were that it was an inside job, that some traitor let him inside.” The boy resumed his rapid, quiet repast.
“They are. His boots had a sort of spike on them, and the damage to the mortar is still visible.” Martin walked to his desk and picked up a book. “Here, though. For your birthday, so you can continue some of your studies while you are in the field.” The response was another muffled sound as the boy half-stood, magnetized by the food in the face of his attempts at courtesy. “God save you Thomas, do they not feed you?” Thomas looked ashamed, finally swallowing his mouthful. His father waved him to sit, allowing the book a place on the corner of the table.
“Ker-heh… When we heard the news, we rode straight through and changed horses. We stopped once at an inn yesterday morning where I talked a bit with the patrons, but that was the last I’ve had.”
“Mmm. Your horsemanship must have finally improved then! Your captain made a good choice to get back here. There’s been no more trouble, but still the situation is tenuous. That many peasants and all the emotions…”
“The queen was from just next door, raised in Epereims. How many of the rabble are from there?”
“Many. My fear is that someone will start a riot by attacking one of the foreigners, and more pain and blood will soak this woeful chapter in the King’s life.” The doctor checked the window again, pushing the curtain aside. “Still, hurry and eat. I expect to be summoned back soon.” The minutes passed in sober quietude, the small scrapes of cutlery punctuating the worried thoughts that brooded with the men. As the small feast was becoming fully picked-over, a knock brought the expected summons and the two gathered themselves and hurried to the guarded staircase leading up to the royal apartments.
The King slouched, bloodshot eyes vacantly scanning the still-bloody bed of his former Queen, a disheveled man brought low with sorrow. The doctor entered quietly and stood at a respectful distance. His son eyed the window suspiciously, clearly considering something as the regent sluggishly reacted. “Ah, Martin. And Thomas too! Lad, your father here is a dear friend and he will be pleased to hear that we acknowledge the wisdom of his insistence that I take my rest and some food. But there are yet two things to be done, then I can rest easy.” The lord swayed to his feet, some coals roaring to blaze again in his eyes. “Thomas, run down and tell your captain that he is to take his men to the square to assist Aster in finally cutting that body down. Disperse the mob and bury the body in secret somewhere lest we be tempted do un-Christian things to it. It is time for this day to end for– for us.”
As the lad shot away like a rabbit before a hound, the renewed eyes focused on Martin’s face. “Old friend, go with them. Find something about this man, so we may take our vengeance on whoever sent him. You know the great struggle we have had for an heir, and you yourself said that I may not live to see another; at least let us damn the one who have stolen our peace.”
“Could your gaolers not uncover anything?”
“Not a peep. They told me that fired irons and calipers and knives alike he simply ignored. They cut him and burned and questioned him but he was as unresponsive as when the guards took him from this room. You saw how he was.”
Martin ran his tongue over his teeth. “Like a brined fish, but breathing. I will do all I can think of, your Majesty.”
The march to the square was tense, and Martin uttered many a prayer even after they arrived and the surly, angry crowds slowly trickled out of the square, away from the ordonnance’s imposing weapons and the implied threat. All went peaceably, and the relieved and eager headsman looked to Martin for permission to cut the man down. The approval given, he examined the body right there on the platform, rolling out his tools and jars from his sack with his son’s practiced help. The Captain kept the privilege of gawking to himself, directing his soldiers to their task of keeping prying eyes discouraged and the true casket of the several they had brought concealed.
When night fell several hours later, the frigid autopsy had brought no answers. Martin had found nothing that would point conclusively in any direction—even the slivered shards within an old scar he had pored over and cleaned and set to jingling in a phial could only tell the quality of his assailant’s weapon, and these were so black from degradation that there was little hope left. The coins from the man’s purse, a mixed bag of copper from several nearby nations; his clothing, homespun; his body scarred like any sort of mercenary, though muscled like a true lion lithe and hard; a plain face that could be from anywhere. “The perfect assassin.” He finally stood. “Well, let us load the body to its eternal rest.”
The soldiers dispersed, weighted sacks keeping the knowledge of the true resting place from all but the Captain and the two surgeons though only the soldiers knew where in the countryside the grave would be dug. On their return, the cloud of disappointment returned to the King, though with rest and food he began again handling the affairs of state that lurked to cheapen his misery. The matter seemed concluded, until a week later a knock at Martin’s door as he was taking his evening revived the old corpse:
“Good evening, doctor.” The foreign nobleman was short and plump, immaculately dressed with dominant, dark eyebrows and pearly. “The servants suggested I visit at this hour, quietly, and escorted me here.”
Martin lowered his Etalan glasses and set his book down. “Very good of them, I’m sure, but to what do I owe the pleasure? You have the advantage of me, I’m afraid.”
“I am Doctor Brukowa. I served a lesser lord far to the East for my whole life until three months ago when he died tragically. I have come because there was a similar assassination here recently, on the path I have taken trailing my lord’s killer. May I come in?”
“Yes, yes of course…” The old man waved toward a chair. “Forgive me, I was not prepared to receive a guest.”
“Oh, I am grateful enough to overlook any of the typical niceties. I would prefer to be brief and to the point.” He withdrew a sizable scroll from his sleeve, tied with a purple ribbon. “This is a sketch of the man I seek.”
“It looks much like him.” The sketch was a masterpiece, and the pale fingers of his guest obscured a strange mark on the corner of the paper that made his skin crawl…
“Then my search is over. I have only to visit the grave and see that he is buried and I may return home!” The man rose, exultant as he rolled the scroll up again.
“That will be some difficulty. The King ordered him buried in secret, somewhere out in the countryside near the city.” Martin smiled ruefully, politely resisting an urge to take his goblet and throw back the rest of the wine.
“Ah.” The man sank down again. “That does make it more difficult. But you are sure the man was killed?”
“I investigated his corpse, at the King’s order, to see if I could find anything that would point to his employer.” The visitor’s eyebrows quirked, and Martin shook his head. “Fortune did not smile on me that day.”
“Nor me on this night…” The man chuckled and rose. “Well, I thank you for your help.”
Martin was left in silence after his visitor left. He was unable to return comfortably to his book and wine; was it his guest’s suddenness? No. He knew it, from a chance encounter in the far-off mists of his younger years. The symbol was one of sorcery, dark and forbidden yet somehow fitting for a dogged pursuit of a skilled assassin… He scratched his beard, reaching for his wine.
Outside the castle, a wisp of cloud slipped from a window on an upper floor and slithered along until it paused between the fortress and the town beneath a tree to form a pudgy man with a faint yellow glow and whiff of sulfur. He withdrew the scroll from his robe once again, placed his finger on the dark rune in the corner and spoke an oily word. The ink slid and coiled, reforming to a map of the surrounding area which he studied for a moment. He swore under his breath, and withdrew a short knife of black iron to place the broken-off tip onto the vellum. He looked expectant, then confused.
In Martin’s satchel, the phial with the metal shards made a tinkling noise.

Game Design with Goals in Mind

While I’m putting the finishing touches on a little game I’ll be offering for free (stay tuned for next month, or sign up for the newsletter so you get an email when it is available!) I thought it would be important to share what has been my biggest stumbling block in the game design process. No, it isn’t tight budgets, distractions, or lack of time.

I did not clarify the purposes of my refinement process

I often have made slick, fun little games and then have taken forever getting them around to useful, polished, salable form. It is a type of analysis paralysis, or perfectionism; a fear of failure and a fear of success all wrapped together. If you are unfocused or if you do not know the target audience, why your game is useful, or who you want to have it then you will run into doldrums after the idea has taken form and you have to choose between one form of good and another.

There are all manner of ways a perfectly good game can be shaped and sculpted depending on the goals: If you are marketing a game to a competitive crowd you will need to crunch the numbers and make sure there is a lot of ambiguity to the optimum play strategies and control randomness in the design. If you are trying to make a fun game for friends and family to gather around, you need to have impactful but quick and limited decision points and emphasize fun interaction during any downtime a player might face—like trading cards or resources with the active player. If you do not keep the goal in mind and have it finely-tuned, the proofing and adapting process will be discordant, touch-and-go.

With Scarcity, I found I have been reaching too far and trying to include too many different concepts. Less that is fun and meaningful is better than more that is flashy but useless; after all, is it not more fun to be engaged over which random and unknown caterpillar is going fastest down its track than to have to spend four hours building a caterpillar to race for a few seconds? The initial prototype played so well around a very basic economy, it was silly to think that I was improving it by making the economy complex by slowing it all down.

So stick to your focus, ask what you are targeting and moving towards, and don’t get lost in the bushes looking for the possible golden nugget when you have a whole field of grain ripe for the picking before you unless you need a golden bee-bee to launch at a particular Goliath. Scarcity will be free, and while it is competitive there is only a little asymmetry so the balance will even out wherever it is laid—and it will be just as fun regardless so long as I maintain the initial vision that underwrote the first prototype on its sheet of lined notebook paper.