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It Gets Good Further In

That is the hopeful prayer of all people recommending something with a rough beginning, or trying to justify why they stuck with said thing. Personally, I view it as a kind of criticism in its own right, never mind the intentions.

The only time that I would say it is acceptable and fulfils the purpose which it seems to, is when the beginning is merely slow. Like Lord of the Rings. It isn’t for everyone, but even people who really like it may be able to agree that the beginning is rather slow–especially if you know how the rest of the story goes.

In Final Fantasy 13, the cry of “it gets better later” is probably one of the worst examples of the answering cry, “That’s not good enough.” Twenty hours into a sixty to eighty hour game may not seem like a lot in fractions, but twenty hours in when one only has three hours of available game time a day is unacceptable. In video games, you shouldn’t end a session because you’re bored or otherwise dissatisfied. That does not speak well for the game, and it does not have the right to get better later. It should be good enough sooner than three hours in. Never mind zarking twenty.

Since movies are an infinitely smaller time investment (you would have to watch Old Boy ten times to cover twenty hours alone), this doesn’t hit them as hard or as often. But let’s say that Avengers failed to engage viewers until the big showdown in New York. That would have been a ridiculous wait time for the movie to “get good.” I don’t actually have a real example off the top of my head because I’ve only been watching actually good movies lately…

(Also, I really did like Avengers, I only used it in example because I could think of the movie in terms of events and time without a lot of effort or research.)

Books, like video games, require a significant investment of one’s time. It depends on the book, but they tend not to require as much as video games (because… Skyrim, you guys) but if you use audiobooks as a guideline to read time, then the average novel runs eight to thirteen hours.

I went back to reading Divergent. And really, it’s not so awful that I can’t finish it. I just stopped reading it back whenever because the beginning is so bloody awful. I’m in Chapter 24 now, and I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about it. And this is the best I can come up with:

Unless the rest of the book is as brilliant as Abarat, it cannot ever squeeze past two stars. The beginning is such a soul-sucking, angry-making obstacle that I just can’t enjoy the rest of the book.

It’s like the horrible beginning took such a toll that I can only spend the rest of the book going, “Yeah? Okay. Whatever. Are you done yet?” Even when something interesting happens, all I can think about is that the pattern set very deeply by the beginning is that nothing can be interesting.

The beginning is a foundation. Not something you’re trying to just get over with–not as a reader or a writer.

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Old News – Fallen London

I remember the good old days when I had nothing to do but be in on the ground-breaking days of pointless internet games. One such was Fallen London, a browser-based game that I first played when you could only join through a Twitter account. I stopped playing for a few reasons. One, it got overwhelming–the game had a lot of “qualities” and stats to keep track of, like quests and connections to various factions. It was also really annoying trying to get any decent amount of game currency without teetering off the free-to-play region.

Those problems are still there, but I don’t care as much since I can only “play” once or twice a day. And yes, the word play does deserve air quotes in regards to Fallen London. And really any game that uses the Story Nexus system.

That’s not a bad thing. It’s like interactive fiction, with lots and lots of reading, as “gameplay” is basically reading things called storylets and then taking action based on how you want to play your character and what your strengths are. I’d like to have some kind of way to train skills without wasting a lot of time–in Fallen London you only get ten actions at a time, and a single action takes ten minutes to refresh. But oh well.

The best thing about Fallen London really, is its theming. The language and graphics evoke a very fun world, and although it can get obnoxious when you fail constantly, because you can only build up one or maybe two skills effectively in a short period of time, you really feel like you’re developing a distinct character as you play. Of course, you have to look at the skills and decide where to specialise before this can really happen. If you just try a little bit of everything at once, you’ll probably just get frustrated.

If you like the idea but don’t enjoy the game, there are others. My return to Fallen London also meant the discovery of the Story Nexus. Rather than just make their game available to those without Twitter or Facebook, they developed a sort of… well, it might not be an engine, but that’s what I’ll call it. A kind of game/story engine. Anyone with a Story Nexus account–whether you play Fallen London, Maelstrom, or The Annwn Simulation 1985–can make their own game world.

I haven’t played with that much, but I did tell Hubby about it, and if he takes a look at it, he’ll probably find out all its secrets. :)

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Desiderata characters

Of the supporting variety, this time around.

I’ve finally stopped procrastinating (to some extent) on those quests that I’ve been mentally referring to as the wizard hires. Since they all give different information and two of them are potential love interests, I decided to start with the one who has the simplest personality and who is not a romantic path. He’s one of my favourite characters now, in a “lite” sort of way. Mostly because he is low maintenance.

But writing this part made me realise something that I hadn’t thought of, and it’s tripping me up a bit.

The reason that the player sought out a wizard in the first place is that the main characters need to find a man, and dig up information on these weird cheap-o items that aren’t magical and yet somehow are magical. The man they have to find is Thorn’s dad (Thorn is one of the main characters).

I have not come up with much on Thorn’s dad. By which I mean, he is barely developed. And even that makes it sound like I have put more thought into it than I actually have. He’s meant to be half-non-human, in a significant way that ties into the plot. He went AWOL on his daughter when she was probably an infant or at least a toddler, and she was probably always aware that he’d had a good reason. Or at least, she believed he had a good reason.

So technically, she doesn’t know much about him either. Callo and Nod don’t know anything about him… Wait.

Callo could possibly discover/realise that he knows lots about him. He could have found a journal that belonged to Timoran (the dad–and I had to search the database to recall his name), and that could lead to a side-scene wherein Thorn speaks privately to Callo about what he learned and did not tell the wizard in order to locate Timoran.

This, boys and girls, is what journals and blogs are good for: stream of consciousness thinking.

It could go this way for each wizard, with Callo giving information on the dad (as we have mostly referred to him), but I don’t know. Are there other options? As boring as it can get to write the same things over and over, plus difficult when trying to write it a different way, there’s no reason to do it differently other than… well, to do it differently.

This was a productive post. :)

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Tests and Eventing

Heard back on the pre-eclampsia, it’s a negative. So that’s good. Unfortunately, also heard back about the GTT and it’s a little high, so I have to go in on Wednesday for the time-sucking three hour test. I really, really hate the idea of this one. Even more than the whole bedrest and magnesium and worrying about early birth thing. For some reason, it was easier to adjust to the idea of pre-eclampsia. I felt like I knew what to do about that one.

Gestational diabetes just sucks. And I’m particularly high risk. I’m glad that I asked for another test, especially since it’s come to this–GD scares the crap out of me–but it still sucks.

So I’m keeping busy until Wednesday, trying to keep my mind off of it. Even started exercising, since suddenly parts of my body are actually working. Walking around the flat for a prolonged period of time, and keeping up my flexion exercise on my fingers. My right ring finger is still pulling lock-up shenanigans, but hopefully that’ll let up. It makes typing weird and picking stuff up a little scary.

I’ve still got all that big obnoxious stuff to event in Desiderata, but I took a chunk out of the optional step I mentioned in my last post. It requires even more checks and repetitive “are you sure” stuff than I had initially planned, but so far, it’s not too bad. I’m taking a break.

HabitRPG still isn’t at its most stable, but I’ve found ways to make it work. I added quite a few dailies (my exercise, for one) and now I’m considering using it to get myself working on Esperanto again. I’ve got a copy of Ivy Kellerman on my iPad now, and I think I’m going to make a new account on lernu, so I can start fresh. We’ll see. Finished two more books yesterday, too.

It’s going to be really funny when Owen is born and all of this stuff goes onto the, “Wow, remember when I had time to even think about that stuff?” list.

Fifty-one days to go.

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Being productive in the meantime

So, after all of the fuss that was made… Heh, seriously, when I say, “all the fuss,” I am not exaggerating. My OB ordered three tests, one of which sent me up the hill to the university hospital. There, a nurse, a phlebotomist, and two midwives hovered over me, literally for hours.

They monitored Owen’s heartbeat and movement, which were both great (he must just be most active after 17:00), but with my BP being INSANE they drew a bunch of blood and nearly sent me home (twice!) with a duplicate of test equipment I’d already gotten from the other lab. I also got a shot of some sort of steroid that will help Owen’s lungs develop faster in case we have to induce. First shot of two.

Then we go in to get the second shot and turn in the twenty-four hour test last night, and we get one nurse who takes her bloody time and nearly forgets to pick up the twenty-four hour test after giving me the shot.

Mixed messages, much?

I honestly packed a quickie version of my hospital bag in case the test results came back saying PRE-ECLAMPSIA and staff kermit-flailed until I got into a hospital bed. It’s not like I want to have this scary thing happen–we are not even stuff-equipped for Owen to be premature, haven’t even got the right size nappies–I just want some consistency. Don’t scare me if it’s not necessary!

um. Anyway.

I worked on Desiderata for a good hour today, finished up a sidequest that’s mostly just dialogue fun. I still have missing maps, which includes the arena. The arena should be a good chunk of thingy, too, but I think it can wait, since I’ve got to place a lot more sidequests, let alone write and event them. There are five of them, one of which is a multi-tiered endeavour, and another which may require me to add or complete a few NPCs in one area of the city.

There are also at least six major plot-related quests that need writing, and since they are basically three independent pairs, that’s a lot of work. It’s that wizard-choosing thing. This is where the game branches on a major level–the first level of wizard quests can all be done, but the second level marks the choice.

One of the wizards has an extra but optional step that can, in combination with a previous happening, knock down his price from 200 to as low as 120 (180 if you don’t have the other thing done, and it’s not something you get a second chance at). I have to write that, and it’ll probably be the reason that I go through his plot quest first.

Also reading another Poirot mystery. Strangely, I don’t think he shows up until at least ten chapters in. Which is weird. It’s an experience, reading them with what was a stronger familiarity with Sherlock Holmes. They have very different chronology and status quos.

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Linear Progression and Nesting Conditional Branches

As I’m sure I’ve said (read: whined about a lot), I have been putting off my current work in Desiderata for a long time. Ninety per cent of that has certainly been due to pregnesia and malaise (pregmalaisia?) but there’s also the quest itself.

I do like writing Arthur, but he existed in the limbo of concept and future planning for such a long time that I built myself some very unreal expectations. He ought to be likeable, although he is entirely optional if the player doesn’t like him. But his likeability is based on charm and humour. Both of which, especially the latter, have incredibly high standards. To do less than meet them is to fail.

But what I mean to really go on about is the eventing/coding involved.

If people want a novel, they acquire a novel. Linearity is a given in a novel, and it works in a manner similar to film and even television, to some extent. (when you bring the concept of series into it, there are some that can be seen out of order, and some that suffer for it) However, video games are not like any of these things.

Even in an RPG that has a central plot line that is told in a linear fashion, the player has options to do things out of order. The degree of freedom varies.

  • Quest for Glory – Acts a bit like a checklist. Most goals are open to the player immediately, some must be unlocked, and others are time-sensitive or time-specific. But there is not necessarily a mandatory order in which you must complete them. Some are even optional. This is the case for most point-and-click adventure games.
  • Jade Empire – Locks the player into one location or location set. There may be a lot of sidequests within that location, and you don’t even have to bother with most of them, but you only have access to them while you are in that location. Once you have progressed the rigidly linear plot to the next point, you move to the next location and can’t go backwards. This is a decent amount of freedom, but more rigidly structured.
  • Final Fantasy 13 – The hallway. Absolutely no feature of the game is accessible to the player unless the game permits it. From the story progression to options in the menu, everything is dictated by fixed advancement.

Seems I managed a bit of a scale, there. As far as we’ve plotted and carried things out in Desiderata, we have a sort of Jade Empire model for player freedom. Funny to say that though, since this location marks the point where the player can actually begin to backtrack travel, and although the story remains rather linear, you have a game-changing decision to make.

Quests can also vary in freedom and linearity. For example, in the quest that allows you to hire the lady wizard Fienna upon completion, the steps are linear. You accept the quest, retrieve an item, fight a monster, chase a frog, and return to Fienna. There’s more to it in the quest completion sequence, but that’s something else.

For Arthur, you have to talk to a few different merchants to obtain spell components. You can speak to them in any order–and one of them will offer you something you don’t want.

For the player, this should be a given. For me, eventing it, I had to make a way that the characters would inform the player that the task was completed without forcing them to speak to the merchants in a particular order.

The way I did this was to nest conditional branches. A conditional branch checks the information present in the game, and acts accordingly. For example, let’s say you want an NPC to say something to the players, but what he says is different based on whether they chose the sword or the bow at some previous juncture.

There are different ways to do that. Simplest would be if they had to choose one or the other and could not have chosen neither, merely make a conditional branch checking for one of the items (doesn’t matter which) and set conditions for if it is not present. That will get you this:

If SWORD is in inventory:
NPC says, “I see you are a warrior!”

Else:
NPC says, “You must be a fine shot.”

The else branch would be called into play if the sword was not chosen, and you as the writer know that if it was not chosen, the bow will have to be  in the inventory instead.

This is one of the easiest uses of conditional branches. But my problem with the merchants was a more complicated one. There are more items involved.

Luckily, each of the merchants provides one of the three items in question. So I make a nested conditional branch to check for the other two, so that the game can check if they have all been gathered. This means that after I make the first check, the first action made is to make another check. Thusly:

If CANDLE is in inventory:
If MUSHROOM is in inventory:
PC says, “We’re done with this quest!”

This basically means that the game checks for the candle, and then checks for the mushroom. If the candle isn’t there, it doesn’t bother looking for the mushroom and life goes on.

The thing to keep in mind with these nested conditional branches is that they are performed in order. So if you’re doing something more complicated, which I have, you might have to have multiple nests. This is mostly necessary for times when you have to have different combinations of checks, e.g., the first step is the most important and subject to complex change.

Now that I’ve babble on and on about this, I’m still not sure I’ve managed to explain it properly. But I hope it’s a little clearer to people who have never used conditional branches (and actually know something about RPG Maker).

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Back to game-writing

And the first thing I run into is a topic that I have brought up before–that of the repetitive nature of much of writing video games. As before, I have been stuck on finishing the myriad ways of accepting and rejecting a quest from the wizard Arthur. As he is a possible love interest, there are quite a few ways to run through his dialogue.

He is fun to write, but I ended up just copying and re-using his actual missive about the items that the player is asked to fetch for him. It’s just a list of items, and I really didn’t want to come up with several ways for the ponce to ask you to get him fox bonemeal, a new candle, and a smelly mushroom.

My favourite thing about Arthur, though, is that Callo takes an immediate dislike to him.

scr1

scr2

The quests for the other two wizards have been done for some time now. This one is all set up now, but the hard part has come up at last. I have to figure out how to make a failing condition for Arthur’s quest. He insists that none of the items can be replaced by cheaper substitutes.

We have a few ideas of how to make this more interesting than BioWare would (yes, I am looking at you, bearded tongue grass), but I think I’m still a bit stuck on the mechanics. More on that tomorrow, probably. Hopefully I’m through with being stuck. Though that is still dependant on how sick I get. Less than sixty days until my due date.

EDIT: Curse my own imperfection. I just noticed the typo in the second screenshot. (it went from “there’re” to “there are” so that’s how that happened) I’ll leave it. I’m not afraid of people knowing I’m a little dumb. It is fixed in-game, though.