RPG Project Underway

Though I’m not privy to releasing details as of yet, I am doing some quests for a Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying campaign system being written by a long time friend from college. I can’t wait to tell you the kinds of adventures I am coming up with, and what the campaign system pertains to. It’s going to rock, and they are quite literally developing an entire new world with scores and scores of realms to explore.

Stay tuned for more info in the coming weeks.

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Game Story Concept: The Reverse Assassin

This is an exercise from Game Production and Documentation class, where we were required to add backstory and character to an established game project based on predetermined criteria.

Title: Dark Matter

Named after the main character, the title is based on the theoretical particle that makes up the bulk of the universe but remains unseen, reacting with Dark Energy to create an opposing force to gravitation. It suggests Dark Matter’s ability to remain unseen yet affect his world in profound ways. It also suggests his world is dark and bleak, trying to pull everything down as he fights to resist its grasp.

    Characters

Hero: Dark Matter, aka The Dark (street legend)

Born in a place unknown, approximately 32 years of age, he grew up an orphan on the streets known as Griffin until age 16 when he was approached by a high ranking government agent who ordered him bound and taken to a secret facility. There he was trained and used as an assassin for ten years before being excruciatingly bonded to a high tech suit for extreme mission targets. Seeing the crimes committed against a number of victims by his controllers, some of them children, he vowed to bring his Commander to justice, working hard to circumvent the missions he is on while making it appear as though he followed through, lest he be executed for failure. A number of legends swirl as to how he got his name. Some say he went unseen through a fully lit white walled complex without being seen; others say he is a creature of the night who came from the stars; some don’t believe at all. But those who do believe agree that he is something to be feared. Dark Matter himself does not like these legends, and does not go out of his way to perpetuate them, only following the faint hope that he might one day be able to live normally again.

Villain: The Grim Titan

A victim of the early bonding process which sought to make bionically enhanced humans into walking tanks, he is cursed with having eight hundred pounds of heavy armor containing a number of brutal weapons designed to engage heavy military one-on-one. Wanting the same kind of revenge that Dark Matter wants, he rules over the government’s expendable soldiers with a stern but compassionate hand, yet harbors a burning hatred that would see millions burn for their destroyed lives.

Archenemy: Commander Harrison Wade

Raised in a respected and highly decorated military family, Harrison Wade was given little approval from his domineering father in his efforts to live up to the family name. On a drunken tirade that left Harrison’s mother dead and Wade himself in a three-week coma, he emerged from the ordeal a brand new man. His mind no longer able to process emotion due to the traumatic overload, he saw a futility in life from his experience and sought only to build himself up above others. The only valuable thing his father had taught him was that power is necessary and vital to survival. He lacked it and was crushed. Wade has fought and schemed and manipulated to change that paradigm of his life ever since. Though not a skilled fighter like Dark Matter, his ability to control the black nano-bonded suits of his assassins allows him all the insurance he needs to scrub away his enemies in his efforts to rule whatever he lays eyes on.

It is not entirely accurate to say that Harrison Wade has no emotion. The one emotion that drives him is fear. Fear of being dominated by those who loom their statures over him like that drunken juggernaut of a father that sought to kill him and every living thing that made so much as a footfall in his household. Being rich on the side is just a little icing on the cake. He has tactical knowledge of military craft, infrastructures, and chains of command, as well as information on every name in government and business. He owns the technology infrastructure of the planet, and therefore owns all.

    Locations

Quicksilver Crossing – A place where death comes swiftly to those seeking to break in or out, Quicksilver Crossing is comprised of a cube structure serving as a prison surrounded by a deep lake of mercury. The harshest and most dangerous are brought here, dangerous often meaning those who know too much thrown into pits with those who’ll take care of the problem. Dark Matter is capture and brought here as a method of torture to force him back into service. The only way of escape is to find the fabled “freedom shaft” that served as an access passage during construction which allegedly leads through each floor to the warden’s chambers at the top where access to a prison ship can be had. It was rumored to have been filled, but sometimes strange echoes carry through the walls at night.

Eden’s Aftermath – A strange and alien forest that grows underground and fed by shafts of light from the surface, the flora and fauna of this subterranean expanse proves both beautiful and deadly as Dark Matter makes his way through the winding, seemingly omni-directional paths in his search for a substance that may be able to separate him from his suit. The Grim Titan, however, has plans to claim the place for himself and his people who fell victim as Dark did.

Nitropolis – The hot seat for entertainment and commerce, the city sees all manner of interplanetary citizens coming to see the sights and sounds of the greatest mecca in the galaxy. It also serves as a front for the operations of Dark Matter’s commander, and is the staging ground for the final battle with The Grim Titan and his army, who wish nothing more than to destroy those who cast them off as freaks while destroying the government that made them. It is a place of high glass towers and maze-like streets that will see battle taken from the streets to the rooftops and across open chasms of air.

Design Spaz #1: Forcefield

Design Spaz is a new series in which I will lay out a spontaneous game design idea as a brainstorming exercise for both myself and you, the reader. Ever had those moments in school when someone antagonized you time after time and when you finally retaliated they called you a spaz? I hate that. But I’m over it. I’m over it…anyway, that’s where the Spaz comes in. Make lemonade, right?


The Big Idea

Title: Forcefield

Genre: Puzzle, Action.

Perspective: Third Person

Similars: Portal, Portal 2

Concept: Forcefield  is a third-person action puzzler where the player uses a force field device allowing them to create different shaped energy barriers that interact with the physics of the level in different ways. Instead of simply blocking projectiles, you will have to use the force field in strategic ways such as creating a bubble around a high powered laser cannon that can hold the energy within and then release it with explosive power at the target. Other fields will be able to allow certain types of matter and energy to pass through while filtering out others. This could mean blocking certain spectrums of light to activate color coded triggers for moving platforms, doors, or even weapons. And that’s the pure puzzle part. Now onto the action.

We all know what force fields do. They bounce things back from whence they came, and that means the enemy. Reflect their ammo back at them for devastating results. But what if they are immune to their own ammo type? No problem. Bounce a different enemy attack from you to them and watch them explode. Imagine a scene with five different enemy types, each with a different type of attack. Energy attacks, physical attacks, reality-altering attacks.

Scenario: Three different enemy types are present in the room. One shoots adamantium slugs from a high-velocity chain gun, another uses a particle manipulation beam to alter the matter around you (a nod to the portal gun), and drones that fire standard lasers. Now let’s say the goal of Matter Manipulators is to open a hole in the spaceship and let the vacuum of space suck you out. The Adamantine Troopers wear armor that deflects their ammo but can pierce virtually anything with their metal slugs. The drones fire a standard laser weapon but are immune to the slugs and matter manipulator.  These enemies are standing in the way of you getting to the top deck of the imperial cruiser. What to do?

When the Matter Manipulators fire at the floor below you, reflect their beam at the Adamantine Troops. Then catch the laser fire from the drones, and release at the MM’s. This basically fries them, as they have no protection against energy weapons. Once they’re done for, place a forcefield bubble around the drones and let their own laser fire build up and melt them down. Then you can use the molten metal on something else! Maybe there’s a door that needs sealing and troops are about to bust in!

Thoughts? Ideas? How would YOU design a game like this? Could the enemy fire be used to activate triggers to help you clear the room? How?

Guild Wars 2: The Can’t Wait To Play It Edition

Okay, so there really isn’t a new edition of the game. I only refer to my hankerin’ to play the game whist not having it for some time. But this game…it’s everything I wanted the original GW to be and didn’t realize it. Well, I realized some things, but I never kept up with development on it until now, launch week. They’re doing away with the old model that hampered Guild Wars (which is still a great game), and I find myself having a hard time waiting until I have some extra fun money to spend on it. So what am I looking most forward to in GW2? Let’s take a quick look.

No Group Play Necessary – I look forward to being able to sail through this game on my own, under my own whim, and at my own pace. Heck, they even went so far as to say that it was my own story (more on that below). Why am I excited about this? It was impossible to do all the story quests in Guild Wars by yourself, even if you had the subpar bots running with you. It helped, but it was never enough. And for someone like me, who was never comfortable talking to strangers, Maybe I just wasn’t as skilled at it as everyone else? Nah. I got real good at soloing in that game, but the game was never meant for that. The other part of my excitement for this is that I hate groups of people I don’t know. Especially now. RPG’s have become the big thing in gaming, and multiplayer has, in general, become the biggest thing in gaming overall. As such, it attracts an even larger pool of people from a big cross-section of society. What that leads to then is a lot more trolls than before. This was not a problem for me in the first Guild Wars, as most players were pretty friendly. But times have changed. As a tank, and a hardcore tank at that, there are too many people that don’t understand the focus and intensity of the class role. They want speed runs and they want it all done their way. Guild Wars 2 changes all that, complete with scaling boss fights and nary a static quest to be found. I hope that every other MMO takes from ArenaNet’s playbook on this one.

Story Pathing – This is the part that intrigues me the most. My own personal story, and no two players will experience the exact same path. At least that’s what ArenaNet claims, and I am stoked about their ability to deliver this. Story is the reason I play RPG’s. No other genre lets you become so immersed in a heroic role than the roleplaying genre. The way is it described in a video demo by Kevin VanOrd of Gamespot.com, the world no longer contains static quests or characters with quest indicators over their heads. Instead, you play in an active world where things happen in real time. So you’re running through the world, smacking heads, when suddenly something catches your eye. Oh, what’s this? A live event that will change the course of history for my game. This is incredible. Everything that happens in the game is seamless. Give. Now.

Entirely Open World – Let’s face it. The world in the original game was stunningly beautiful, but this one is wide open for exploring. Those of us who remember the original had the honor of cities that were open for all players, but PvE areas were all instanced. That really stunk. This game doesn’t do such a stinky thing. Good job, ArenaNet!

And a slew of other things await! They added three cool new classes in addition to the original five, including a class for tanking that is, for all intents and purposes, a Paladin. I love the world, I love the design, everything about this game tells me this will be the MMO to beat for quite some time to come. What’s got you excited for Guild Wars 2? Comment below.

The Skyrim Creation Kit is here!

And there are already 157+ mods uploaded to the Steam Workshop, a little Valve add-on that I think is incredibly cool. I have a lot of ideas for quests, some of which will require new dungeons and landscapes. Got my work cut out for me. Well, not exactly. I’ll be doing the cutting and the work afterward. I’m new to this set of tools, not having modded since Oblivion, so it will be some time before you see these posted here.

Tales of the Black Bard – A legendary figure who wanders the lands of Tamriel and its outer realms, ebon-clad Magnussen the Black Bard comes to Skyrim where he is framed for a leading an uprising, and the player must aid him in his efforts to clear his name and uncover the real conspirators behind the quagmire.

The Daedra Imperative – The daedra are petty, sniveling, manipulative beings who care only to further their own selfish ends. They’ve manipulated you, conned you, and made you do things that wake you up at night in a cold sweat. It’s time to make them pay…

And Other Cautionary Tales… is a lighthearted series of quests that see the player trying to herd a stampede of mammoths across the plains, helping the Woodcutter’s Guild establish a name for themselves, and assisting a happless Imperial soldier who dreams of being an inventor.

We’ll see where these experiments lead. I can’t wait to meet that Imperial Soldier who invents Tamriel’s first tazer.

How To Write A Screenplay

Originally published on Helium.com

A screenplay, or movie script, is not unlike a home-cooked meal. It can be wonderful or it can be terrible. Adding ingredients that don’t belong in it, or too much of anything, and you end up with a mess fit for the trashcan. As with any great dish, each aspect of the screenplay story has to have a reason for being. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation where you suffered through a film that left you feeling hollow, saying to yourself “I can do better than that!” Here, I will show you the basic ingredients that will start you on your way to writing that movie you know you’ve been carrying around inside. Be sure to take this article at your own pace, digesting it at your leisure. Now then, onto the work. Let’s get our utensils in order first.

Workspace: The first thing you should do is either get yourself a macro for Word that automatically formats in screenplay form or scriptwriting software. Doing the formatting yourself is time-consuming and frustrating. I and many others use Movie Magic’s Screenwriter 2000, while many others use Final Draft. Either program serves its purpose: automatically formatting your script in such a way that helps you concentrate on your story and not on which buttons to press. I personally prefer the dedicated software over the macro. Purchase only if you are serious about writing. They are expensive programs and are the best on the market. There are some free ones available, the most popular of which is Celtx.

The Recipe

Every great story starts from a simple idea, a “what if” scenario, or a picture in your mind. Begin by writing down your ideas as they come to you. Ever find yourself thinking “Man, I wish they’d make a movie of that!”? Well there you go. Write it down. Once you settle on what you want your movie to be about, you can then move on to identifying your characters.

There is a reason that critically acclaimed blockbusters such as E.T., Back to the Future, and Raiders of the Lost Ark work so well. Though all had unique stories, several things in common with the characters in each film drive their stories forward to crowd-pleasing success. Let’s take a look at some of the main ingredients.

Main Character (MC): This is the character that goes through the greatest emotional change by the end of the film. It is this character’s misbehavior (talked about in more detail later) or character flaw that brings about the main conflict. There can only be one MC. This character is usually, but not always, different from the Protagonist, or the hero of the story. This has led to much confusion for beginning screenwriters, but I will clear this up right now. Some examples of M.C.’s are Cole Sear in “The Sixth Sense”, Red Redding from “The Shawshank Redemption” and, I kid you not, Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi.”

If you’ve seen any of these films, you might be wondering “Hey, that doesn’t make any sense. It was Dr. Malcolm Crowe who helped Cole Sear overcome his fears, Andy Dufresne who defeated incredible odds inside that horrible prison, and we’ve been following Luke Skywalker’s heroic adventures since Episode One!”

True, they did some of the most heroic things, and they all went through some kind of change, but not a great emotional one in the films mentioned above. It was Cole Sear who went from being utterly frightened by the ghosts and isolated to courageous and accepted by his peers, while Dr. Crowe remained composed and sympathetic the whole time. It was Red Redding who went from being fearful of hope to embracing it with arms open wide, while Andy Dufresne retained his inspiring integrity and optimism. And it was Darth Vader who, in “Return of the Jedi”, went from being cold and merciless to heroic and protective to save his son, while Luke held on to his moral alignment over The Emperor’s torture. There is a name for these other characters as well. This leads us to the next ingredient.

Dynamic/Catalyst Character (DC): It is this character in the film that inspires the emotional change in the main character, both helping the MC in realizing their misbehavior and spurring them to change. Because of this, the MC is able to do something at the end of the film that he/she was not able to do at the beginning. This character also wants something from the MC. Dr. Crow from The Sixth Sense wanted a kind of redemption through helping Cole Sear identify his flaw and how to take action against it. Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption helps awaken Red to hope but also needs his resourcefulness and friendship to survive prison and the machinations of the corrupt warden. Luke Skywalker pressed his father Vader to realize there was still enough good in him to turn from the Dark Side, but Luke needed his father to save him from certain death at the hands of Emperor Palpatine. That should clear things up for you on that front. Let’s move on to the simplest of the three.

Antagonist: This character is the easiest of the three to recognize, at least most of the time. It is the ultimate opponent; the physical representation of the emotional conflict in the MC. The antagonist wants what the main character wants, but goes about getting it in less that scrupulous means with equally negative intentions. It is the final battle and defeat of this opponent that symbolizes the grand emotional change experienced by the MC. Examples are the ghosts in “The Sixth Sense”, Warden Norton in “The Shawshank Redemption”, and the Emperor in “Return of the Jedi.” The ghosts represent Cole’s loneliness and fear of society, whose antics during the film are cries for help. The tyrannical Warden Norton represents Red’s crushing guilt over his crime that deny him any hope of freedom or redemption. The Emperor represents the power of the Dark Side of the force that Vader comes into contention with throughout the film. When the MC comes to terms with their problem and its solution, these opponents are defeated. This can also be done vice versa, as in the case of “The Shawshank Redemption” where the Warden is defeated before Red is redeemed (hence the title).

Misbehavior: This is a character flaw possessed by the MC that keeps him/her from achieving their goals. It sounds like a contradiction of terms, as we normally associate the main character with heroism or flawlessness. This is not the case here, as a misbehavior can be as simple as not wanting to do chores around the house or as complicated as addiction. Examples of misbehaviors: Neo’s skepticism of his true identity in “The Matrix”, which brings the crew of the Nebuchadnezzar into trouble with Agent Smith; Peter Parker’s greed in “Spider-Man”, which leads to the death of his Uncle Ben; and Michael Corleone’s need for revenge in “The Godfather.”

Basic Story Structure

This is an insanely broad area that has been much debated over the years, dropping way too much unnecessary information upon the novice. We are going to simplify things for you and strip it down to the lowest common denominator. Movies as a rule thumb consist of three sections, or “Acts”. Each act has its own function in telling the story, and has to fulfill certain goals so that the story is propelled in a way the audience will both understand and believe. You can gain a fuller understanding of each act by watching your favorite movie and paying special attention to when the following events occur. For future reference: one page of your screenplay equals roughly one minute of movie time.

ACT I: The first 25-30 minutes of a movie comprise Act I. Here we are introduced to the main character, dynamic character, ultimate opponent, and the main conflict. The first few minutes of a film must also establish the genre and offer up a surprise that hooks the audience. Act I of “The Shawshank Redemption” introduces us to Red (MC), Andy (DC), Warden Norton (UO), and the dangers faced by the characters of Shawshank Penitentiary. The hook is Andy’s conviction of a crime he did not commit, which begs the question “Then what happens!?”

ACT II: The next hour or so makes up the second act, which is split into two parts. It is here that the characters take off on their quest, whether it be trying to find true love or locating lost treasure. In The Goonies, Mikey and his friends begin a last ditch effort to save their homes by searching for a treasure that may or may not exist while running afoul of the Fratelli crime family who also want the treasure. This is the first half of the second act, which shows the characters acting upon their situations in a sort of desperate fashion.

The second part of Act II is what can be seen as a rest period of sorts for the characters on both sides of the moral line. It is the eye of the storm, so to speak. The characters enter a sanctuary for a brief respite from their problems, to regroup and clear their heads. The characters begin to really grasp their role in the big picture, and the significance of their actions. In “The Fellowship of the Ring”, Frodo and company pass through the dead dwarven mines of Moria through scads of peril to enter an elven city where they are allowed to take refuge. This also allows the audience a break for their nerves to recover from the tension and so the conflict does not become tedious to them. Once Frodo and company are sufficiently rested they take off once more to face the final battle of the movie.

ACT III: This is the resolution, the last 30 or so minutes of the film, the culmination of the efforts of all sides of the conflict coming to a head. The main character meets the ultimate opponent in a final battle. It’s really that simple. All the experience gained by the main character will be put to use here against the enemy. The emotional change we talked about earlier will take place in this act, with the final minutes being the demonstration of the change and the positive results gained. In effect, the main character “rides off into the sunset” with his/her new life, or the opposite as is common in noir films.

Note: Do not try to fit your story into these acts while you are doing your early drafts. Doing so will add unneeded stress. This basically takes care of itself throughout the rewriting process. Just concentrate on your story.
Final Thoughts

Though we’ve only scratched the surface of what goes into writing a winning screenplay, you have been given the necessary tools and a foundation on which to build a script. A few more essential tips on the craft:

Rewriting: There is a saying in the writing field that holds true now, and will do so forever. Writing is re-writing. The first draft of anything is never good, as the greats will readily admit. In his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, Stephen King generously lets us look into a first draft of his short story, “1408”. It was trash. There is nothing more inspiring than knowing that even the masters start at ground level just like we do. When you write your first draft, you write it from your heart. Just get it onto the page, and don’t worry if it sounds like B-grade slop. You will do the rewrites with your head, and fix the problems that are inherent with first drafts of all kinds. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

Setup, Payoff, and Organic scenes: Also known as cause and effect. Every scene and event that happens in a movie must have a reason for being. Every line of dialog, every move made by the characters must support the forward movement of the story to its resolution. If you set something up in one scene, be sure to pay it off in the next or a future scene in a way that builds upon the story. If your character goes in to get a loan without really needing it, and we never find out whether he/she got it, there was no reason to have that scene in the first place. It didn’t come out of the situation faced by the characters, it was merely thrown in thoughtlessly. Don’t get attached to a scene because you think it is funny, scary, dramatic, etc. If its only reason for being is that you thought it would be cool to do, cut it and file it away. Who knows, you just might think of what’s missing and find a place for it after all.

A good thing to remember is this: just as with any fine meal, each chef has a little bit different way of preparing and revising it. Maybe a little more of this spice, a touch less of that herb – you get my drift. There is almost nothing that is considered holy writ concerning any exact structure for cooking, and so it is with your screenplay. There are several strict rules of thumb that you must follow, though, in order to have your story taken seriously. If you have seen and survived “Adaptation.” with Nicolas Cage, you have seen a hilarious breaking of all these rules from the very beginning of the film.

Voice-Over Narration: Rule numero uno is you can never reveal your character’s thoughts through V.O. narration. Movies are a visual medium, unlike a novel where almost anything goes. We need to see a character express his thoughts and feelings through action. Otherwise there is no reason to write a movie. Voice-over narration is effective in certain types of stories like “The Shawshank Redemption”, but would completely halt a movie like The Matrix in its tracks. Dramatic films lend themselves to V.O. Narration at times, as long as the narration itself expresses a thought that where action films do not.

Directing: This is a big problem with many new screenwriters. Stay away from trying to direct with your screenplay, telling us things like how fast a character walks or putting sound effects into the action text or telling actors how to say their lines. Steer away from camera angles. The director decides these things in due time in collaboration with the appropriate parties, for better or for worse. Your script will undergo a thousand different changes during production, and the director will ignore whatever direction you wanted to give. So will the studio heads.

Writer Protagonist: Vanity comes in many forms, and the screenwriter as the protagonist is no exception. All writers put a little (or a lot) of themselves into their characters. It is unavoidable. But to make the protagonist of the film a writer is a major taboo that will almost always get you turned down. There have been many movies with a writer protagonist, true, but it is a known fact that they aren’t very interesting. Unless you can find a novel way of breaking the rule, as Charlie Kaufman did in “Adaptation.”, steer clear.

In Closing…

I hope you have enjoyed this exploration of screenwriting. It is a wonderful craft to learn if you have a desire to write, and offers unique challenges not found in any other kind of writing. Be patient and persistent with yourself and your story, and you just might come out with a blockbuster of your own. Now get to work.

Welcome!

Thank you for visiting the Northern Reaches, where the imagination knows no boundary. The power of the written word lives here. Are you ready for some adventure? Game design. Level design. Creative writing. Photoshop awesome. I love to create. I create to tell a story. I tell stories to make life better and to glorify my God.