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Metal Gear Solid, or How I Was Ruined for All Other Video Games

29 August 2013 | Comments Off | Brandon M Lindsay

The first moment I realized that I had expectations for what a game ought to be was the moment I first popped Metal Gear Solid into my Playstation. I had read the previews about the game in all the video game magazines I subscribed to (which was every one available) and I had played games similar to it—or at least I thought I had. Metal Gear Solid was, on the surface anyway, a third-person military shooter with emphasis on stealth elements. Pretty par-for-the-course, as far as video games go.

And then I discovered that everything I believed about the world was a lie.

MGSMetal Gear Solid was footage from the International Space Station for flat-earthers. It proved that one need not sacrifice story to gameplay, or vice versa, that not only could they coexist in harmony, but become fully integrated with one another. MGS even takes it one step further: it takes the player experience and makes it an essential aspect of both the gameplay and the story.

An example of what I mean by that. (*SPOILER ALERT* for those who have not played it; shame on you, by the way!) At one point, a character named Psycho Mantis, one of the several villains you must defeat to save the world from nuclear devastation, decides to battle you. The problem is, nothing you do works—nor can it. With his psychic powers, Psycho Mantis is able to predict every action you take the moment you take it, rendering all your efforts to injure him useless. It is impossible to defeat him—until you realize that his psychic powers only extend to controller port 1. Plug your controller into port 2, and you may just have a chance. (*END SPOILER*)

One of the reasons this grinding-to-dust of the fourth wall is so effectively jarring is because the game strives for realism in so many ways. The environments are incredibly detailed, the characters are rich and deep beyond belief, yet even those things are not safe. When the protagonist, Solid Snake, returns to an old military base in Alaska (which is where the bulk of the action of the first game took place) in Metal Gear Solid 4, he also returns to the exact same 32-bit polygonal art style of the original Playstation game.

SolidSnake-600x372Kicking down the fourth wall and violating expectations was a part of the series before Metal Gear Solid was even released, though in a comparatively more subdued form. When a traitorous member of Solid Snake’s team tries get him to abandon his mission in 1987’s Metal Gear, he says, “Solid Snake! Stop the operation. Switch off your MSX at once.” (The MSX was the platform on which the game first appeared.)

What these games proved to me is that we need not be satisfied with our expectations, that suspense can be built when we shake the very foundation of our readers’ worldviews. There are times when I’m writing and I realize that my story has taken the expected path—the safer path. It’s at times like these where I wonder, “WWMGSD?” Metal Gear Solid would probably turn my novel into an ASCII flipbook animation, which is a little unconventional for even my tastes, but it can still serve as a guidepost for ways to keep readers from guessing what’s coming.

Not So Final, After All

31 May 2013 | 1 Comment » | Brandon M Lindsay

For those of us who had video game controllers in our hands at the time, the year 1997 will forever live in infamy. While nary a year goes by that doesn’t make a gamer go squee, that year was significant in that it made gamers feel so much more than mere excitement. They felt anger, sorrow, surprise, frustration, hate, love, and loss-all in the same moment. That moment can be encapsulated in two words.

Aeris Gainsborough.

AerisFor the uninitiated, Aeris (or Aerith in the Japanese version) was one of the playable characters in Final Fantasy VII, one who *SPOILER ALERT* met her tragic end *END SPOILER* in one of the most pivotal moments of gaming history. The reverberations of that scene can still be felt today. The reason it-and the rest of the game-was so significant was because it showed us the storytelling capabilities of video games in spectacular, blindsiding fashion.

Of course, games had stories before then. Earlier entries in the Final Fantasy series, especially VI, are known for depth of characters, but not to the level seen in VII. Until then, game stories for the most part seemed to be little more than window dressing, or at least a well-kept secret. FFVII made storytelling a mainstream expectation.

The impact on me was deep. I was astounded that the state of gaming proceeded from the emotionless and abstract intellectual challenges of games like Tetris to experiences that could move you. Not only had Final Fantasy VII taken me to a world where magic was possible, but a world where the depths of human emotion were plumbed. I have no problem invoking a cliche, because there is no other way to say it: that game was life-changing.

I remember watching the credits roll at the end of that game and setting down my controller, and when I recovered from my several-minutes-long daze, I thought, “Gee whiz, I should write a video game script!”

So that’s exactly what I did.

I knew, then and there, that I would be a video game writer. I was resolved, even as I researched the job and discovered how difficult it was to Aerith Gainsboroughbreak in as games became more cinematic. After finishing what I then deemed my masterpiece, the fabled “Final Fantasy-killer” that gamers have been waiting for without even knowing it, I realized I needed a game plan (sorry – I had to). After all, the game industry doesn’t work quite like movies-writers do not submit scripts that then get turned into games. More often, all the writing gets done while the game is in development by writers who have already proven their mettle. I had to gain some sort of writing credit that would elevate my name into consideration for that unicorn of a job, called game writer.

Hey, why not write a novel?

That was years ago, and prose has since stolen my heart-most of it, anyway. Part of me still yearns to get involved with the medium that set me down this path in the first place. Indeed, I recently signed on to an indie game startup as the writer, though that project has since been put on hiatus. For now, I’ll have to satisfy my creative impulses with writing novels and stories, even though I’ll never forget the love of writing that the Final Fantasy series instilled in me, nor will I forget the flower girl named Aeris who lived in a abandoned church.

The Fictorians Have Been Busy!

4 April 2013 | Comments Off | Evan Braun

Contributing to the Fictorian Era represents a very small portion of my continued efforts to further my writing career, albeit it’s an effort I can get pretty passionate about. Like the rest of our regular bloggers, I am committed to growing that career and getting my work out into the world-and of course, the market.

Some of us have been serious about this pursuit for many years, while others have begun the endeavor more recently, but we’ve all made tremendous progress. Today’s post is dedicated to showcasing the work we have collectively sold or published in the last two years.

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Evan Braun. I’ll BookofCreationstart with me. In May 2012, my debut novel was published through a small press in Canada. Called The Book of Creation, it is the first in a three-volume adventure series in the vein of Indiana Jones, with a bit of Da Vinci Code mysticism thrown in for good measure. I wrote a piece about the release of the book last year.

The Book of Creation can be purchased here. The Kindle version is currently on sale for just 99 cents! It is also available on the Nook as well as the book’s official website. The second volume in the series, The City of Darkness, is coming out later this year. Details will be announced right here at the Fictorian Era, so stayed tuned.

David Carrico. In the last few years, David has sold four short stories and one non-fiction piece to The Grantville Gazette, an online magazine featuring stories and articles about the inhabitants of the world of 1632, the first novel in a long-running series by bestselling author Eric Flint. The first of the stories is “Evening of the Day,” followed by three stories co-written with Enrico Toro-”Euterpe, Part 5,” “Cadence,” and “The Duelist.” He also wrote the non-fiction “After the Ring.”

In addition, anotherTheDevilsOpera of his stories, “Suite for Four Hands,” appeared in Grantville Gazette VI, an anthology published by Eric Flint and published by Baen Books.

Most importantly, David has recently teamed up with Eric Flint to co-write one of the official entries in the 1632 series. This new novel, coming out in October 2013, is entitled 1636: The Devil’s Opera. In case you missed it, David recently wrote a post about his opportunity to work directly with one of the most talented writers in the industry. Another post on this collaboration is coming later this month.

1632: The Devil’s Opera can he preordered here.

Colette Black. Colette specializes in young adult fantasy, and has also made several sales. Credited as C.M. Vernon, her short story “Beneath the Skin” appeared in Women Writing the Weird. More recently, she received an honorable mention in the prestigious Writers of the Future contest for her 4th Quarter 2012 entry. She also won the CopperCon 32 short story contest with “Kairo’s Opportunity.”

Finally, Colette’s short story “Demon River” is forthcoming this month in White Cat Publishing’s biannual anthology magazine, Denizens of Darkness. It will be available to purchase here.

Nancy DiMauroApolloRising. Nancy’s debut novella, Apollo Rising, was released by Musa Publishing last September. The story combines romance with Greek mythology. It can be purchased here. She has also released a couple of short story collections, including Paths Less Traveled and Shots at Redemption, both of which are available as $2.99 ebooks. She also contributed to an anthology called Jack Gorman Got Cut by a Girl. These are Amazon links, but note that the books are also available through Musa Publishing’s online store and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Book Store.

Nancy also contributed to Doghorn Publishing’s Women Writing the Weird, along with fellow Fictorian Colette Black.

Mary Pletsch. Mary is still just getting started, but she recently sold her first short story to a forthcoming anthology. Unfortunately, the details of the anthology haven’t yet been released from the publisher. Rest assured, Mary will be writing a post later this year with all the info. Stay tuned!

Joshua Essoe. Joshua’s foray into publishing began a few years ago when he began working with acclaimed fantasy author David Farland on his award-winning novel, Nightingale. For more information about his successful editing business, check out his website. You’ll find an impressive gallery there of all his edited works which have gone on to be published.

In addition to his editing, Joshua has pulled in two honorable mentions for stories submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. His writing has also appeared on Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Brandon MDarkTree. Lindsay. Brandon has been actively self-publishing short stories leading up the released of his forthcoming debut novel, The Born Sword. So far the stories include Dark Tree and an anthology entitled The Clans. The provided links take you to the Kindle Store, but Brandon’s works are available across multiple platforms, including Barnes and Noble, Sony, and Kobo. Links can be found at his website.

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This is not an exhaustive list. There are many other books that are coming out soon, as a number of our contributors are working closely with well-respected agents. We are coming out with new material all the time, so make sure to check back here often, as you will see publishing announcements and articles about our writing processes.

Well, readers, now that you know what we are up to, do you have any exciting projects of your own you’d like to share with us? Feel free to discuss them in the comments section.

Tune in tomorrow, when we kick off our third year with a month of posts from true professionals. Throughout April, we’ll be getting people from different fields, from editors to illustrators, to talk about the process of collaborating with authors on manuscripts.

Dreams vs. Day Jobs

17 October 2012 | 4 Comments » | Brandon M Lindsay

I love money. I love being able to do the things I want to do without worrying if doing them will prevent me from paying my bills. I love that feeling of clarity that comes with the bank statement telling me that those setbacks that life sometimes throws at me are hardly setbacks at all.

I also love the satisfaction of a job well-done. I love raises, and promotions, and the praise of coworkers and bosses. I love having some structure to my day. In short, I love having a day job.

It’s easy to make the case that we can’t live without our day jobs. It’s even easier in such tough economic times, when it becomes clear to so many of us what not having one is like.

But I sometimes wonder: what if that was all I had? What if, on my deathbed, I realized that the greatest thing I achieved in life was middle management?

What if I had to make a choice between the comfort that a steady paycheck brought and the dreams that defined who I am?

Of course, one of the nice things about our modern society, even in its current state, is that we don’t have to make that choice. I am a writer with a day job. I am able to both pay my bills and follow my dreams. One need not be sacrificed to the other.

Yet knowing how you would answer such questions can help shape your future. Both your day job and your dreams exist in tension because they both compete for your time (what little time is left over from daily living).

It’s easy for us newer writers to frantically scramble for the top in this fast-paced new world of electronic publishing. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it brings us the unreasonable expectation that if you’re not an immediate success, you’re an immediate failure. It’s easy to forget that there’s still the future in which we can make our mark. Writers are notoriously easy to discourage, perhaps in part because the world wants so badly to discourage us, and now we have sales rankings that can disappoint us every hour on the hour that only provide one more such opportunity.

As writers, our work doesn’t have an expiration date, especially now that the term “out-of-print” has gone the way of the dodo. But even before that was true, many writers had to wait years – decades even – before seeing an inkling of success. Yet still they persevered because they knew that without following their dreams, every other little success they achieved was but part of a greater failure. And fail, they could not. Writing was their lives. Without it, breathing was merely a countdown to death.

In taking the long view, we don’t have to answer the dilemma between day job and dream. It may be hard working two jobs, but no one said this would be easy. Patience and perseverance are job requirements; if you don’t have them, you may want to start thinking about middle management. It may make you happier.

So how would I answer this dilemma? Would I take comfort and security, a life with few surprises and few adventures? Or would I risk it all for the ultimate prize?

If you’ve read any of my fiction, you already know.

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Help me quit my day job!

Read a ripping good yarn while you’re at it!

Today only, my epic fantasy, The Clans: Tales of the Fourth World, is free on Kindle! Click here for more details.

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The Fourth World is ending. Brother Willfonde, the man destined to save it, is dead. Yet he left behind six clues-one historical text from each clan-in the hope that someone could finish what he started. Or so it is believed.

Led by a novice named Kularro, a group of young geniuses is tasked to find what the Magisters of the Church of the Overarch could not: an answer to the riddle of Willfonde’s six texts. Will they be able to find a way to save their world? Or is Willfonde’s final message one of despair?

 

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