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I Have No Idea What You Meant

Started playing a bunch of RPG Maker games just for kicks this afternoon. Most of them, I deleted after playing for less than ten minutes. Just… no need to go into that. But this one, I fired up and started reading the intro–and just laughed my head off.

I’m a writer, I am allowed to laugh at bad writing.

So I wrote up a sort of riff track for it, keeping it inline with the intro text as it scrolled down. I didn’t go into this wanting to hate the game or make fun of it. It just invited me to do so.

“Dearest Sister,”

Oh no, I can already smell the complex.

“There was a lovely princess who was loved by everyone.

And then she went missing.”

She was taken by the Department of Redundancy Department who took her.

“The king in panic, called forth a band of heroes to retrieve the princess. Only to be slain by the Evil Overlord.”

…The king was slain by the Evil Overlord? Yes, that is what you said, writer. Here is a copy of Strunk’s Elements of Style.

“Upon the news, more people went to save her. Worried about how she is and what happened to her.”

Read. That. Book. You have a missing verb, a sentence fragment, and tense changes.

“We don’t know where they are now. Probably dead.”

That’s actually a decent line to what could be a compelling setup. Let’s see how you ruin it.

” ‘200 gold for this job?’ The musclehead named Erik said.”

That was faster than I expected, actually.

” ‘The King said that a lot of people are offering their services. We’re very late because someone was oversleeping.’ A vuloptous woman named Elicia said.”

So many… so many… Wow. I think ‘vuloptous’ is a Pokemon. Also, if people are just going out to find this missing princess (shades of Ozma), then why is anyone offering payment?

” ‘Naia doesn’t understand. Why would anyone kidnap the princess?’ The dimwit Naia said.”

This reminds me of poor stupid awful Pig in Journey to the West. Not the idiotic third person speech, but the mean description.

” ‘Everyone, we’ll get fully paid, once we get the job done.’

Sigh… It’s hard being the leader.”

Wha–oh yeah. I forgot, this is in a letter. …Wait. Who writes dialogue in letters?

“It doesn’t help the King didn’t even include a picture of the princess. The quest boards didn’t even have them. Nobody has seen the princess for years ever since the Queen died. How are we supposed to find her at this rate?”

This gets funnier the longer it goes on. It also makes less sense. Why is there payment at all? This sounds like it’s a kingdom-wide search mostly being performed by volunteers, so why are our heroes the only douchebags demanding money for a “job”?

And why would no one know what the princess looks like? Screw the given explanation, that is cheap and nonsensical. Or maybe it’s true. Even the king doesn’t know what his own daughter looks like now, so he assumes she’s missing when he finally goes to see her and she just happens to be in another room.

Also, what kind of setting is this? Kings and princesses in RPGs usually don’t go hand in hand with Kodak.

“I only pray that this quest will be over soon.”

I can only pray that this intro will end soon.

“Please be well sister.”

Looks like you need some commas. Here, I have plenty: ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

“Your loving brother, Remius”

Again, I am thinking of all the anime characters with sister-complexes. And although that name could be dumber, none of the names really sit well with each other or do anything to establish the setting.

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the game looks like.

I transcribed the intro with utter faith and no respect at all. I even checked it for typos.

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ITWYM? Karma (intro rewrite)

Not really the return to this that I would have liked, but an interesting idea all the same.

With such a clichéd beginning, it seems better to just throw out the entire thing and introduce a much more compelling premise. But that’s not quite the point. I feel compelled to delve deeper into just why I have such a big problem with this game’s intro, but that would just be dull.

So, striking a compromise. As there is not much richness to draw from and the game is a very simple platformer, I went with second person, present tense. A new call to adventure that hopefully feels less like a rejected Power Rangers script.

///

You sit at the end of the table, perusing one of your many texts. There is a television in your living room, but you have found it disconcerting of late. Too many breaks in the images. Too many headaches and troubling ideas. If you could only recognise the source of their inception, you might be willing to switch the telly on again, but you have no such reassurance.

Although you are not an avid reader, you do have a modest collection of books. Most of them you inherited when your father passed. He had not been much of a reader either, but he had apparently been interested in the cultivation of the mind. Much of the content in his books feels over your head, but you enjoy the diagrams and the occasional mad philosophy.

A knock at the door rouses your interest from the crisp pages. Leaving a bookmark in between a dissertation on the ease of human flight, you get up to see who it is.

Your home is in a bad part of town. There are many chains keeping you in and the rest of the world firmly out. You must hunt down six keys to release the chains if you wish to see who is attempting to visit you.

The question is, do you wish to have a visitor?

///

Then you could jump around looking for your keys, collecting the things–or, after a revolutionary fashion, you can choose not to hunt down the keys at all, and receive an effect that will actually move the story along a different path. Does that seem so difficult?

Should you hunt down the keys and open the door:

///

The door creaks as you open it, protesting at its unexpected use. You attempt to peek through, only to have the door slammed open. It strikes you on the nose. Tears spring to your eyes, and you stagger backwards.

A woman brandishing something thin and dark stands in your doorway. Her posture glows with confidence, and as you blink past your tears, you can see that she is conventionally beautiful. She barks something over her shoulder, in a harsh language you do not understand, and then a man several inches taller and wider than yourself enters your home. Hunched and menacing, he reaches for you.

You blanch, then leap for the pistol you keep hidden under the table.

Again, the woman speaks in that harsh language, and you find yourself unable to move. The large man looms over you, his figure so enormous that he casts a shadow over his own body. When he strikes you, you feel as though his shadow has swallowed you whole.

Sometime later, you awaken in a glass room. Your hair has been cut, and you are dressed in formal clothing that you have never seen before. A quick glance about the room reveals only a stark white bed, a curtained toilet facility, and a low table.

Gingerly, you sit on the edge of the bed, rubbing your face. A strange series of bumps and grooves meets your fingers. With a gasp, you realise that some kind of device has been attached to your head.

///

If you don’t answer the door, something else happens.

But am I making any kind of point? Drop the destiny nonsense. This here is a story about some everyday person being kidnapped to be used as a lab rat. Or something. He or she can rise to heroics through character development, truly deserve nobility instead of being forced into it because a prophecy/oracle/master said so. Or he/she can fail miserably, descending to the basest cowardice.

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Is This What You Meant? Karma (analysis)

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Treasure Adventure at GOG.com for free. I opened it up today and found out that it has an unfinished predecessor called Karma by the same designer, so I fired that one up first.

Now I am afraid to play the actual finished game. Wording it that way makes it sound like the game is supposed to have the same story as the unfinished one, which I don’t think is the case, but the fear is there. Needless to say, Karma is not very good.

To be fair, both the incomplete and completed games were free. They look fine, and they don’t promise much, so what they deliver almost doesn’t matter. But Karma’s story still horrors me to my bloody core.

Karma is a platformer, wherein you play a little uni-hued seeker of enlightenment. You jump about and eventually expand the gameplay a little by reincarnating. I only made it about halfway through the prologue, so I don’t know how many times you reincarnate. The first incarnation is a little man who looks like a walking shadow, the second is a worm. I would guess that all of your forms are ruled by the single colour you choose before beginning play.

The beginning of the game has your character speaking with his master, a grey sprite who bangs on about enlightenment and karma coins. Apparently your character has been training in this fashion for his entire life, and the master has great hopes. He sends you upstairs to sleep, and for some reason instead of doing that, you go outside and watch the sun set from the roof. But it only sets a few pixels before your master sends a cry for help through the door behind you.

If any of this sounds familiar, then you have probably played video games before. Any. Video game.

When you go back inside, there is a note waiting for you. This is where my horror began and I have to say that every occurrence of the villain only made that horror grow. The letter addresses you as “Meddling Hero” and informs you that the villain has kidnapped your master, and you may see him again provided you don’t interfere with his plan. His plan involves taking over the world, so getting your master back under these conditions is a little undesirable. The letter also says that he is sick of you and your master foiling his plans or something like that. I’m paraphrasing, but my summation of this letter is not only free of typos, but it also sets itself apart from the actual letter by not being utterly ridiculous.

Meddling. Hero. As far as the game has told you thus far, you’ve been in spiritual pursuit all of your life. When did you meddle? Why would you? Who is this tool? Why would he take your master in the first place, and why would he dangle the idea of you getting the man back if his plan would just subjugate the entire population anyway? Why not just kill you and your master if this guy could enter your home and carry out a kidnapping within SECONDS?

Is there anything about this that makes sense?

I certainly didn’t think so. As I alluded to in my post about elements, this is all just a bunch of elements thrown together with no attention to logic or a greater story. It’s not even a bland, vanilla story. If stories were ice cream, this one would be rotten beef and parsley in a cone made of wax lips.

Why do so many stories start this way? Deadly Sin did the letter from a disappeared mentor, and I thought it was stupid then. It was handled much better than this, but as with any time a writer tries to indulge in this particular trope, the letter is lengthy, rambling, and dull. At least when the main character in Deadly Sin catches up to her master, something interesting has happened to him and he joins your party.

When you catch up to the villain (who actually insults you like a child before this point, angry that you’re following his trail), he delivers some tangential speech about consumerism and brain-washing. It’s very cliché, right down to the mention of an “iPlant” device.

Again, questions are raised. Why would this guy bother with a robot army when he is basically the hypocritical villain version of Steve Jobs and Michael Bay? He says himself that he controls trends and the economy with “the push of a button”. The best part is that he is using crystals to accomplish all of this. A revelation that he follows with a comment about it all being possible to his genius.

And then he bloody shoots your master in the head in spite of all of his talk. And tells you to chase him and die.

Sigh. Intro rewrite to follow. I’ve run long in my post again.

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Swiss cheese from the brain factory

First of all, I continue much the same, plagued by poor health that affects mostly my brain. I wanted to visit friends like an Austen heroine and spend the last of my break that way, or go buy a live mouse and feed the snakes. Especially since my brother might be letting us have his. If he doesn’t, then I plan to get one of my own. His eats frozen mice, though, so that’s a lot easier.

I have at minimum five things I want to be writing at the moment, spread out over at least three different instances of software and websites. Of course, I’m too loopy to get a word in. I’m amazed that I’m getting even my thoughts down in the browser window to make a blog post for the day. I’d try working out, but walking across the flat just left me stunned and staggering, so a treadmill is probably not the shiniest of ideas.

Being physically unable to type is so rarely an issue that it makes it even more frustrating when my problem is mental. I can seriously feel my thoughts upending or not ending at all. That’s not even clever.

I tried reading, but a trawl of Feedbooks only surfaced something that I would normally subject to an Is This What You Meant? entry. Except that it would be too painful. The title was promising enough, but the book is so boring that by the time I gave up in the middle of chapter 8, I felt even worse than when I had been fighting down vomit.

Actually, I managed to write a half-conscious review, but it took up so much of this entry, that I moved it. I already have to change this post title, it isn’t what I wanted to write about. I’ll have to give it another try and either schedule it for tomorrow or have a three-post day.

One of the stories I’m working on right now has a robot-like character (he’s completely organic, and programmed with behavioural science and stuff instead of robotics or electric anything), and I’m kind of glad that I already wrote his backstory out. Now I can safely say that he’s nothing to do with any of my current reading. And he will not be. I’m not the lame type of writer who stands on soapboxes in prose.

I’ll jump on as often as I please on my blog, of course. As long as awful writers infect the world, Is This What You Meant? will get new entries. I might stick with video games, though. Seems safest.

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Headaches impair brain function

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of headaches. I’m pretty sure this one is my own fault, though. I stayed up too late.

It makes it hard to be jazzed about anything, for a start. Yesterday was a nice Christmas. We got to do everything we wanted to do–at least in a broad spectrum–and everyone liked their gifts. I know that people tend to, but we focused on giving things that would be appreciated, consumed, and/or used.

I forgot to take any of the homemade chocolate, and that category was where Appa’s entire present lay. He didn’t mind, but I felt bad. I’ll have to go visit him when I don’t feel like my head is a chunk of clay trying to stay attached to a toothpick.

We got the most eclectic collection of Harry Potter movies, which made me laugh. We didn’t have any, and now we have the fourth, fifth, and eighth ones.

I would really like to sit down and write the next encounter, or get more than a hiccuping start on Chapter 10, but it’s so much more difficult with a headache. My tablet is actually encouraging more typos than usual.

Next PaPW encounters:

Arete and Surinder go into Lady Magna’s mansion, hear out the proposal–which Surinder will have to explain forgetting–and then they refuse, fight their way to a standstill, and try to use force to keep Lady Magna from coming after either of them.

Candle goes to meet with his lady lover, and realises how deep in it he is when she lays out terms. If I have time, his other lover may show up.

Anson tries to convince Edelweiss to submit to an examination, and invites her to join the women and men under his care.

//

I still need to work on Chapter 10. It’s not an easy chapter–more dialogue-driven exposition from a character that I’m not always confident in. I have a couple of ideas for ITWYM, but I have to scrap one of them, and I have to replay the first few hours of one of the other games to refresh my memory.

Is it spreading myself too thin if no one is interested in any of the projects? I thought that it meant I just had a lot of things I wrote for myself.

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Is This What You Meant? Inotia 3

This time it’s quite different. Inotia 3: Children of Carnia is a role-playing game available for free on the Android Market. This is, as one might expect, thanks to micro-transactions, but I find that in games like RPGs, micro-transactions can actually be ignored if so desired. There are ads too, but you just have to close them and get back to your game.

On the plus side, while the game is mostly free, the graphics are stellar. The portraits are particularly lovely, although the sprites are a little too…jumpy for my tastes. It may not have the budget or aesthetic sense of 3D console games, but it is way above what one would expect to play on a phone or tablet. (for the record, I play it on my tablet.) The music is forgettable, but not annoying. The gameplay is comparable to a Flash or SNES RPG.

However, the story is bumpy at best. I played for about an hour and a half to two hours, and while the story never actively lost me, it didn’t grab me either. I played the game while watching old episodes of Castle, and nothing in the game took my attention so much that I had to pause the episode, apart from missions that named locations. And then, I only had to pause so that I could commit the boring standard-fantasy name to memory for a few seconds.

The first problem is the game’s hook. Not only is the intro utterly indistinguishable from anyone’s first attempt at an RPGMaker title, but it is also nearly identical to (part of) that of an RPG that came out for the Playstation in 2000, Legend of Dragoon.

In the section of Legend of Dragoon’s intro that I’m talking about, the main character, thinly (if at all) characterised, tromps into the village to find a girl who is important to him, and is attacked by the people who destroyed the village.

In Inotia 3, a warrior with long white hair, presumably the main character, runs to a spot in a dark village looking for “Irene”. He fights some goblins, assumes they took her, and runs to find her. When he does, a big satanic demon fights him, and then cuts off the fight in the middle to make a speech about the innate violence and evil in humans, and basically corrupts Irene into attacking her brother… with insta-magic.

The best part of this predictable, empty mishmash, is…well, it’s two things, really. First, is that although the dialogue bar has names attached to each person’s speech, the supposed main character always has the infamous ??? tag. Even though Irene says his name.

The second best part is that after all that, our real hero just wakes up in a forest. It was a dream.

There are seminars about why that is a bad beginning to a story. This is a perfect example of a dead-horse hook. A hook that has been used to death. In fact, the scene itself is one. I like that they’re paired. It makes it easier not to care whether I like the game or not.

To make things even better, the second, what I will call “true” beginning of the game, is even more rote than the first. Your character is a young man being told to kill creatures to obtain x number of items in preparation for his coming of age ceremony. I kept waiting for someone to say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

And just about his only noticeable character trait is that he has a crush on the other kid growing up in the ceremony. She’s a pretty girl. He can’t tell her how he feels… because he’s in a Japanese story.

Charlie Brown made wishy-washy a personality trait. This kid, Lucio, merely owns two stereotypes–coming of age ceremony and cannot confess crush.

As one might expect, the next part of the story is a fetch quest that is apparently a way to celebrate being adults. Really. “Go get us a holy leaf, now you’re bigguns,” basically. “We all celebrate it that way.” Also as one might expect, the monsters on the way to the sacred tree are pushovers, and then, still expected, the small-time quest is interrupted by something ~mysterious~ that sends your party on another quest.

The only thing I didn’t expect was that the girl Lucio has a crush on, a (sigh) predictably healer girl named Ameli, is the real hero. Although probably oblivious to Loser-o’s crush, she is civil-almost-friendly to him, and takes charge in both events where the first major quest is uprooted and then expanded.

It’s so easy to spot what’s wrong with this game’s story. But is it easy to fix? We need the right hero in the spotlight, a more interesting hook, and the premier main quest needs to be more original.

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Is This What You Meant? Folklore

I had a lot of fun last time, so I thought that while I’m in a bit of a funk, another one of these would be a good idea. Although I’ve already talked about Folklore in a previous, quite recent post, I’ll give it a little of an introduction here to stay in keeping with the ITWYM? spirit.

Folklore is actually the PS3 game that I had added in my queue and had hoped would come before Resonance of Fate. I had wanted to try Folklore first because we’d just gotten our PS3, so I was in the mood to play it, and I didn’t want to get sick of Uncharted or Little Big Planet too fast. It also looked like my kind of thing–a pretty fantasy world. I write my own, and I like other people’s.

It did ultimately disappoint, far, far more than Resonance of Fate. At least I liked playing RoF. While most of the fault lies with the gameplay, the story did nothing to make me put up with the cheesy, empty gameplay.

The last time I summed it up, I was in a hurry, and had a post dragging on for too long. I should do it a little more justice here, to preface my own rewriting of the concepts.

Two stories, supposedly running concurrently, and neither is original or even told in an interesting way. A girl looking for her mother is quite basic, but it’s cluttered with what I call dead-horse hooks. The same goes for Keats following curiosity and a flimsy murder. The problem with this game, as opposed to RoF’s nonsensical cold open rife with too much information, is that the story is introduced with exhaustive detail and stretched too thin.

So let’s try to introduce a few specific things to the story-telling: more original characters, better characterisation, and replacing clichés with fresh ideas. If it doesn’t run too long, then maybe I can even expand the tiny world to a more immersive size.

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