Tag Archives: Gaming

Myke Cole – The Gaming Influence

A guest post by Myke Cole

I’ve written a lot about the influence of gaming in my writing. I don’t have anything to say that you couldn’t guess (and that hasn’t already been said a hundred times at least): that gaming taught me to write a story on the fly with my audience trying to sabotage it. That it helped me to freely imagine, that it helped me understand a story inside the confines of a set of rules.

Not to mention connecting me to amazing people and equally amazing ideas, all of which are critical to the building the bedrock where a storyteller sets their roots.

But gaming had an unusually direct effect on my writing more recently. Back in February of this year, there was a minor blowup on the Internets when Games Workshop, the proprietors of the insanely popular Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes claimed copyright over the term “Space Marine.” When the smoke cleared from that particular dustup, they were determined to be no richer for their efforts, serious in their attempts and greatly diminished in the eyes of the fan community.

Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised.

About a year earlier, I had finally developed contacts inside Black Library, the fiction wing of the Warhammer 40,000 universe and was in the middle of what turned out to be a year long process of hammering out ideas to start writing fiction for the franchise.

I was over the moon. I LOVE the Warhammer 40,000 universe. It is one of the most brilliantly conceived and executed speculative fiction concepts I’ve ever come across, and richly deserves the success it has earned. I loved it so much that I wrote an essay about why I felt it was an important addition to the pantheon (you can read it here – Myke Cole on Warhammer 40K and Apocalypse Literature).

We were talking about giving me my own Space Marine chapter, with a supporting Imperial Guard unit, that hadn’t been written about before. I could develop them as my own, crafting their stories and heroes, fixing them firmly in the universe I loved so much. This is why I was willing to put my nose to the grindstone, working through idea after idea and draft after draft to get to something, anything, that would be acceptable to the editors.

And, after roughly a year, I finally got one across the plate. The editor I was working with made an offer on a short piece of fiction for their inventory, something to maybe be put in as supporting text for a forthcoming manual. It was just a finger in the crack of the closet door, but it was a start. I eagerly awaited the contract.

And then it came.

It was . . . well, it was a lot like the Space Marine thing. The demands were . . . not what my agent and I considered reasonable.

I wrote my editor with a long list of requested changes, begging him to budge on this. I loved the Warhammer 40,000 universe, was desperate to work in it, had already put in many, many hours toward that end.

The answer came back as expected. The contract was the contract. Sign it or walk.

So, I walked.

I spent a lot a downtime after that, bummed to have come so close to achieving a dream, only to miss it on a technicality. That feeling was quickly replaced by frustration over all the time I’d wasted. I had pages and pages of notes of what I thought were really good story ideas, all written to the Warhammer 40,000 standard. All useless now.

I bitched and moaned to my friend and fellow author Peter V. Brett about it and he shrugged. “They’re good stories, aren’t they? And they’re yours. Strip out the IP and look at the bones. Might be something you can use.”

Seems simple, eh? Intuitive? I was in such a bad spot over the experience that I hadn’t thought of it.

So, I sat down and took a hard look at my work. I took the story carcasses and boiled them until anything remotely resembling the Warhammer 40,000 universe came off the bones, until I was left with only the shining white armature of plot and character.

And I was right. Good stories.

Stories I am even now reshaping into work I can sell.

So, gaming influence my writing? Damn straight it does. Thematically, indirectly, and even specifically. There may be disappointments in my life, but the discipline has never let me down, so long as I kept faith with it.

Excited to see where it takes me next.

Guest Writer Bio: As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill. All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing. Myke is the author of the Shadow Ops Series: Shadow Ops #1: Control Point, Shadow Ops #2: Fortress Fron­tier, and Shadow Ops #3: Breach Zone. (Author gets credit for all referral links.)

You can find Myke online at www.mykecole.com, or on Facebook, or Twitter.

Halo: The Success of Story

I’ve played the first three Halo installments and still consider it to be the best video game I’ve ever experienced. I must admit that I had to hang up my blasters when time management became a challenge, but there are times when I consider breaking out the old Xbox and “blasting me some Covenant troops.”

There’s a reason I still remember Halo fondly. It’s the same reason that the franchise is still going strong, but it may not be the reason you’re thinking of.

I remember watching an infomercial for Halo 2 back in 2004. One of the developers at Bungie Studios said something that has stuck with me ever since. What he said was true, but I’m going to caveat the hell out of it to make a point about the success of the Halo franchise.

Basically, this techno-weenie (an incredible gifted one, I might add) said that if you can make 30 seconds of combat be fun over and over again in a video game, you basically have a winner. He couldn’t have been more right. If you look around you’ll find plenty of examples for this little business model, including Counterstrike, Aliens vs. Predator, and WoW to name just a few. But Halo is the bar in both popularity and raw monetary revenues that virtually all other video game companies strive for.

Most people would just say it’s an epically awesome first-person-shooter, and they’d be right. However, something set Halo apart—something intrinsic to the game that turned it into a multi-billion-dollar franchise still going strong after nearly fourteen years.

Story and character.

Halo is set upon a galactic stage of epic scale, with first humanity and then all sentient life cast in the balance should our hero fail in his objectives. What’s more, players really get a sense of tremendous scope as the storyline unfolds. There are fantastic, deep-space cut-scenes, incredibly detailed starships, and brilliantly created alien settings that literally suck you into the story before you know what’s happened to you. And it is upon this stage that players experience a truly fantastic story. It’s what they call in the literary world are real “page turner.”

In a nutshell, Covenant troops are doing their best to wipe out humanity as part of a religious crusade, and it takes almost no time at all for gamers to become totally immersed in the conflict. The protagonist is Master Chief, a cybernetically enhanced and fully armored soldier, who must almost single-handedly stop them. The Master Chief dashes, tumbles, leaps, or flies from one firefight to the next… over and over again.

That’s what the techno-weenie was referring too. There’s an assortment of wicked-cool weapons and uber-awesome vehicles. The basic action of the game is fairly straightforward, but never gets old.

If the game had been left at just that, it would have been very successful, but as far as I’m concerned, Bungie took the whole thing to the next level. They did it not with CGI or harder levels or even any sense of “leveling” the Master Chief. They did what I wish all game design companies would incorporate. They created a story that rivals any epic sci-fi novel I’ve ever read.

To begin with, there’s a sense of discovery built into the storyline that appeals to what must be nearly the hundredth percentile of gaming geekdom. Behind all the action—behind the Covenant and traversing the galaxy—are the Halo rings. It’s this sense of mystery that makes Halo a step above other gaming storylines. Not only must Master Chief beat up on the Covenant—which is tons of fun, by the way—he must discover what Halo rings are, what they’re for, who built them, and why.

Which leads us to The Flood.

Bungie didn’t stop with just shooting Covenant. They decided to throw a real monkey-wrench into the works. The Flood is an alien, zombie-like life form that, if loosed upon humanity, could wipe us out indiscriminately. In just one cut-scene, the whole story takes remarkable sci-fi action and adds a horror element that ups the stakes considerably. Tension just oozes from the three-way antagonism inherent in the Halo universe.

That’s a huge part of why this game has been so successful. Bungie (and later Microsoft) has consistently upped the tension and scale of the story. There’s always something new—something exciting or horrific—just around the next corner.


This is what good storytelling is all about—constantly upping the stakes and making it all plausible as you go along. And the Halo franchise does just that… in spades.

The last caveat worth mentioning here, and it’s a big one, is the characterizations within the story. For starters, the Master Chief is an exceptional protagonist for the story. He’s the nearly indestructible super-hero whose vulnerabilities leave just enough risk to keep things interesting. He’s the stoic, lone-gunman in space, who must face insurmountable odds over and over again out of a sense of duty. I mean, who doesn’t love the honor-bound hero who has no interest in monetary gains?

But Master Chief isn’t alone. He’s assisted by Cortana, a rather voluptuous AI who rides shotgun and scopes out some of the more technical bits of conflict that the Master Chief must face. However, she does serve one other critical function of a more literary nature. She’s easy-access to the deep back-story of the Halo universe, something that every good tale needs. Through her, the Master Chief discovers a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes. She is both his “right hand” and the “investigator” portion of the story. Cortana allows gamers gets quick info dumps about the history and scale of the universe that Bungie continues to expand upon, and does so without wrenching the player out of the storyline.

Again, GENIUS.

In Halo 2, Bungie even upped their game from a characterization perspective. They made the “first person perspective” not only that of the Master Chief, but also a renegade Covenant soldier who is committed to bringing down the Covenant leadership. In one fell swoop, they increased the level of storytelling, created a “sympathetic villain,” and expanded the scope of who and what the person behind the game controls experiences.

Bungie got literally everything right with this game. The nailed the action part, which hasn’t really changed much in the past 14 years, and created a compelling, intriguing and multi-perspective set of characters that make for hour after hour after hour of fantastic gaming experience.

The story, hands down, has some of the very best tools and tricks that keep readers/gamers interested. We are taught from the get-go that there’s always just a little bit more to learn. We come to expect these new discoveries, and thus far we haven’t been let down.

That is why the Halo franchise continues to be best in breed.

The success of Halo is something each and every writer should take notes from. Play this game, from start to finish. Pay attention to story and characterization. Watch how the chapters are laid out and how the designers/writers keep upping their game to keep you riveted to the couch and the controller in your hands.

And when you’ve done all that, apply it to your writing. If you do, you’ll be writing better stories with better characters. More importantly, readers will want to turn those pages till the wee hours of the morning to get to the end… and buy the next installment.


Fable-01[1]A guest post by Jace Sanders.

I rummaged through the selection of video games at a local store, looking for the perfect escape. The week was long and my mind screamed for relaxation. I had recently reread the Lord of the Rings series and decided to diversify my entertainment fixes by replacing a book with a controller.

I’d struck out several times before. Some games had incredible graphics, but little to no plot, while others had a decent story, but the controller commands were too complicated. A young man suggested I try Fable, and my video gaming days have consequently not been the same since.

Fable begins on a beautiful day in the small village of Oakvale in the realm of Albion. The gameplay is infused with ambiance, making the experience that much more enjoyable. The main character is a young man who spends his first day performing tasks to earn money for his sister’s birthday present.

I was immediately drawn in as a participating creator of the story, as I was able to choose my own adventure in the various scenarios I came across. Without even realizing it, I was actually being taught the dynamics of the game.

Tragedy then strikes and the young man is whisked away onto an adventure of revenge and discovery as he trains to become a famous and powerful hero.

Rather than simply telling a story, Fable empowers me to help in its development. Many games have interfaces where you can design the character’s looks, but Fable was one of the first to tie a character’s features to choices made throughout the game.

The main character, known as Hero (or by other titles you can earn through reputation, like Chicken Chaser), grows from a young boy to an old man. Depending on small choices made throughout the game, the character’s appearance develops. If Hero eats pies and red meat, he will grow fat. If he travels at night rather than sleep, his skin will turn pale. His body scars if he fights without proper protection, though townsfolk wager money for the hero to increase the difficulty of a task by doing it in his underwear or without weapons.

Hero becomes a stronger swordfighter, or archer or mage, as he practices that particular skill. He can level up in an array of categories like strength, speed, and stealth.

Hero can also make moral choices. He can choose to protect someone, or perhaps steal from them. There’s no restriction in killing the innocent and then purchasing their homes and shops at the estate sale. But as the game suggests, “Every choice a consequence.”

My first time playing Fable, I naturally wanted to be a good person, and I made proper choices to ensure that I was seen as a standup hero, complete with a halo and butterflies that followed me wherever I traveled. But my second time through, the temptation proved too great to deny myself the evils of Albion. I gave into greed and gluttony, becoming a revered obese landowner with demonic red eyes and devilish horns sprouting from my head. Townsfolk fled into their homes and secured the doors as I passed by. Children screamed as I approached and commented on my horrific deeds.

The first time I played, I strived to focus on the main objective of avenging my family. Others in Albion asked me to assist them in menial tasks that I mostly ignored. My second time through, I pursued all the tangent stories and sub-adventures. I was able to grow stronger and richer. Some of that money I used to court the love of my life, or loves of my life—at one point, I had a wife in every town. Once I tried to marry two women in the same town, but I think they knew each other because the first divorced me.

I’ve spent hours exploring the corners of Albion. I found a fistfight club that met in the middle of the night. I discovered buried treasure. I went fishing, kicked chickens, dressed like an assassin, grew a beard, and got a tattoo, all while trying to avenge my family.

I returned to the video game store the day Fable 2 hit the shelves. While in line, I learned that the game was only available on Xbox 360, a console I didn’t yet own. It took a little explaining to my (real) wife that I deserved an advance on my birthday present, but that night I played Fable 2 till dawn. I don’t regret it, but honestly the second Fable was a let down. The graphics are better, but the storyline is almost the same. Rather than continue on from where the first left off, the story seems to repeat itself several years later than the first.

I didn’t purchase Fable 3; instead I borrowed it from a friend. I found it was more of the same with an extra dose of boring.

What makes Fable so powerful is its compelling story, which in some ways I help write as I build the character, along with his strengths and weaknesses. While the subsequent games have similar functions as the first in development through choices, they fail to tell a good story.

Guest Writer Bio: Jace Sanders lives in Arizona with his wife and five children. In addition to writing, he enjoys music, photography, and anything outdoors. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Utah State University and works for a biotech company.

The Story in the Game

Gaming Dice When I was a child, I considered myself lucky enough to own an original 8bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Even back then, I gravitated toward the role playing games, and deeply enjoyed the Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy series. Even those games, in their primitive brilliance, were able to tell great stories.

As more advanced systems arrived, the ability to tell an amazing story improved. I was able to curse the evil brilliance of the Zelda Water Level. I was lost in the harmonic masterpiece of the Final Fantasy 6 Opera Scene. I cried as Aerith died in Final Fantasy 7. I lived many different adventures, and died many glorious deaths. My name is still immortalized in an old online MUD (text-based multiplayer game) as a warrior who helped destroy an old god and bring about a new birth to the world. All these things showed me what worked and what failed when it came to telling a fulfilling and interesting story.

That being said, being able to write a novel and working to bend the fates that are a dice roll away from destroying you may seem like completely different mediums, but they both require a lot of imagination, creativity, and a little bit of luck to succeed. And, in my case, my adventures in a game has inspired more than a few stories. There are even quite a few novels out there that the authors claim came completely from a game played with their friends.

I’ve asked my fellow Fictorians how a good game has influenced their writing. We’ll jump from Halo to Barbie Queen to paper and dice role playing systems. Some will be a story similar to my own, others may be a cautionary tale. Sit back and enjoy the Fictorians talk about Gaming.