Category Archives: Storyline

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

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.

World of Warcraft: The Fiction Addiction

My name is Quincy Allen, and it’s been three days since my last login. Okay, okay, so that’s a lie. I logged in last night, but I won’t apologize for it.

Now that I’ve outed myself as one of those “lamentable” adults who dabble in MMOs, let me tell you why. Like a lot of writers, writing is not my only gig. I’m a tech-writer by day, operate a small but growing book design business by night, and do my writing in the wee hours as time permits. That means that I need to decompress from time to time. Slaying damn near any mob that gets in my way is a perfect way to accomplish it.

What can I say? It’s better than going Postal. Some people play golf. Some watch sports. I’m currently working my way towards the Pinnacle of Storms in order to slay Lei Shen who threatens all of Pandaria. Lei Shen’s power derives from ancient Titan technology, and the Titans were a race of elder gods who deemed the life of Azeroth unfit to breathe.

Over my dead body.

World of Warcraft has been a perfect environment to let off steam for someone who appreciates good storytelling and kilometers-thick back-story. WoW arguably has the most exhaustive canon of any game out there, and it creation goes all the way back to the game’s incept in 1994 in the form of Orcs and Humans. From those meager origins, a worlds-spanning history going back over 10,000 years has been born.

In many respects, that’s what has kept me playing WoW. There’s an almost never-ending sense of discovery as the main storyline unfolds for the players, and there are hundreds if not thousands of side-stories woven throughout the environment to keep someone like me intrigued.

There’s a lesson for all writers in what Blizzard has accomplished with their flagship product. History. If you’re writing contemporary fiction, then your history is written for you, and you can draw from that. If you’re writing alternate history, fantasy, or even future sci-fi, then you should do at least some work in creating your own canon. I can give one example that I use in the novel I just wrapped up.

It’s steampunk fantasy fiction set in the Old West. A half-clockwork gunslinger with magic-imbued mechanical limbs must protect a 15th century vampiress from being sacrificed to raise a demon army. Simple enough, but the obvious question is, where the hell did the magic come from?

That part wasn’t as simple. I wanted to make the presence of magic in the Old West at least plausible in my head, so I had to alter history. Granted, this tidbit of data isn’t explained in the series I’m referring to, but it is revealed in another series I’ve started, which takes place in the same universe. Essentially, I had to assassinate a 13th century Pope in order to have magic exist in the Victorian era.

Having done so opens up a wealth of possibilities in my writing and gives my rather critical notion of plausibility a leg up. Basically, I can believe in my own “invention” and build upon it as I see fit with cultures, characters, and histories that all have that single changed moment in history as their foundation. All roads lead to Rome, as they say.

This is a technique I recommend for all writers. While your story takes place “now,” you should have a strong understanding of “what came before.” Not only will this make your story richer, it will give you virtually limitless destinations that all have the same look and feel, because they all derive from the same point of origin.

If you’re writing the fantastic, then take some time to sketch out the timeline around your story. Know what’s going on in your world and have at least a moderate understanding of its history. Empowered with this knowledge, you’ll find that the depth of your storytelling increases by a factor of, and the creation of both sidelines and spin-offs is that much easier to write.




P.S. If you run on Kil’Jaeden, keep an eye out for a DK named Moondawg.


Where the Rules Come From

My love affair with board games began when I was a small child. Every once in a blue moon, our family would gather around the dining room table and play a board game. When I say “blue moon,” I mean it. It hardly ever happened, and I think the scarcity of these occasions was part of the draw. I was also fiercely competitive, which hasn’t changed much.

Back in the late 1980s, as I was coming of age, the first Nintendo console was brand new. Hot off the assembly lines. I thought Duck Hunt was fun, but oh my God was I bad at it. I always blamed it on poor hand-eye coordination, the same excuse I gave for being so dismal at baseball, football, soccer… well, any sport really, right down to miniature golf. (Turns out I’m not terrible at curling, only middling, but that’s a whole other post, which sadly will most likely never appear on this blog due to being so wildly off-topic as to be side-splittingly hilarious.)

So where was I?

Oh yeah. Nintendo. I was bad at it. I was one of those guys who struggled to get through the first world of the original Super Mario Bros. Those damned killer flower vines always crawled up at the worst moments, and don’t even mention the bottomless chasms. No matter how narrow the holes, I sent Mario and Luigi careening straight into them every time. It’s like riding a bike and trying to avoid hitting a tree while you’re staring right at it—harder than it sounds, trust me.

As I got older, gaming platforms got more advanced, but my aforementioned hand-eye coordination didn’t. I sat back while at my friends’ houses and watched Goldeneye tournaments drag on for hours. When they asked me if I wanted a turn, I politely declined, saying that really, no, I preferred to spectate.

What a crock.

So it was board games for me, but it was hard to find anyone willing to play them. And the selection wasn’t particularly sophisticated; on the top shelf of our hallway closet was a collection of ramshackle Monopoly and Payday boxes, the edges torn and the playing pieces scattered.

It wasn’t until college that I discovered board games could be awesome. My friend Tom invited me over to a games night one evening, and I learned about Settlers of Catan. I loved that game right from the start. I’ve played it probably a hundred times since—and only won twice, which is an ego bruiser, to be sure, but it never stopped me from coming back for more punishment. Today, I get together with my board-gaming buddies about once a month, and we’re always trying out new releases from overseas. It’s a bit pretentious and snobby, yes, and that’s how I like it. And sometimes I even win!

There’s a point to all this beyond a sprawling personal history, I swear.

For as long as I dabbled with games, I also dabbled with writing, but never did the two meet. They were unrelated activities. One had nothing to do with the other. After all, games had rules, and my gestational stories did not. It was years before I discovered structure. Half of the fun of writing was finding out what happened at the end. I suppose some writers still work this way, though at least they usually impose structure after the fact.

Well, games and stories had a lot more in common than I thought. If they’re not quite siblings, then at minimum they’re first cousins. They have beginnings, middles, and ends. They have characters (actual characters sometimes, at other times just players, though the two are analogous). They have probabilities, conflict, and suspense. They have surprises and twists.

Without gaming, I’m pretty sure I would have discovered the importance of narrative structure, eventually. But it would have taken me a lot longer. I’ve now been told that my handle on plot and structure is one of my greatest strengths as a writer, so maybe all those wasted hours watching my friends play first-person shooters weren’t quite as wasted as I initially thought!

In fact, I know they weren’t wasted. For me, games were a catalyst. They were the bridge carrying me from thinking of plot as just the things that happened in a story to seeing them as intentional machinations. The main difference between books and games is that as an author the rules aren’t imposed on me anymore. Now I get to make the rules, and it’s the sweetest revenge.

Can you imagine how good I would have been at baseball if the team with the most strike-outs won the game?

I can.

Barbie Queen of The Prom: A Cautionary Tale

The Barbie Queen of The Prom board

I’ve always been a big fan of board games.  Although my taste in board games has become more refined with the likes of Dominion, 7 Wonders, Agricola, Age of Empires III and more, I had to start somewhere. And I started with Barbie Queen of the Prom (BQP).

First, some background. Growing up, I primarily lived with my dad and my brother. I had to sit through countless hours of He-Man, college basketball, pro basketball, G.I. Joe, golf, and occasionally baseball. While I do appreciate all of these things, let’s just say I paid my dues. So every now and again, my dad and brother let me pick out which board game I wanted to play, and I would almost always choose Barbie Queen of the Prom. And I’m just going to write it now so the embarrassment for them is over quickly: my dad or my brother almost always won. They always got to be queen of the prom! *Folds arms, grumpy face*

The dreamboats.

Anyhoo, something funky was going on with BQP.  I had the re-boot version of the 1960’s board game, and apparently the rules weren’t any clearer in the 90’s than they were back in the 60’s (kind of like actual prom – ZING!). The basic premise is this: you start out with some Barbie bucks and with those you accumulate a dress, a hairstyle, a ride to the prom, and a boy to take to the prom (you didn’t have to pay for the boy, thank goodness). Then, when you got to the prom, you spin (sometimes over and over and over) until somebody gets to be prom queen.

But here’s the weird part – when you got to prom, if you landed on a friend tile (a token with one of Barbie’s friends on it), you picked it up. But the rules were extremely vague about what you actually did with this token. Before this point, every token accumulated was used in exchange for something. After some careful speculation, my dad, brother and I could come to no other conclusion but you could trade in one of your friends for an extra spin – that is to say: another chance to become queen of the prom.

What. The. (Youknow.)

All social conditioning from the first part of the game aside, what’s up with this trading in your friends thing?! That’s so not cool, man.

The moral of my story is this: when things aren’t clear, people can’t help but assume. In writing and in life, if you don’t make things clear, things will start to go awry.

Also, if something doesn’t ring true, people will notice.

All games take a bit of imagination and fantasy in order to come alive. Make sure that whatever you develop rings true and leads the audience in exactly the direction you want them to go (even if that direction is misdirection), or they may just start trading in their friends for a chance to be queen of the prom.



Kristin Luna is a Marketing Consultant by day and writer by break of dawn. She prefers to wear t-shirts. Kristin, a descendant of the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts, is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy trilogy. When she isn’t contemplating marketing campaigns or writing, she’s crocheting, playing board games, figuring out yoga, teaching her cats sign language, reading, or getting in cabs saying, “To the library – and step on it!”. She is kidding about only two of those hobbies.