A few months ago I started working on the Narrative Design for a game called Eons Lost, currently in development by 3 Halves Games. Though Narrative Design was not initially an area of writing I gave much consideration, it ended up taking over my brain, and I want to share with you my methodology in approaching it.
Interactive Narrative is a consistent pattern of Objective and Reward.
The following diagrams are the first element in the methodology I am using to design the narrative of Eons Lost. I started with the basics: How do you organize Interactive Narrative?
Every day I don’t spend Writing or developing a project feels like a waste.
Its been this way for a few years. Time that I have spent, for instance, writing out over 350 pages filling 3 notebooks, writing the better part of 2 plays a pilot and half of a novel. I used to write every single day, Now I’m lucky if I have time to sit and work on my days off.
Its been a theme of my last few months. A constant droning voice gnawing away at what I assume is my mind, telling me in some eldritch tongue that I need to write more to service the elder-gods, or some other nonsense.
Even so, I don’t like to refer to myself as a “Writer”.
The term has too much baggage. Whenever I say, “I Write”, there is an immediate look on someones face. There are always questions.
“Have you written anything I know?”
That would be code for, “Are you published?”. The answer is: Not Yet.
“What do you write?”
A question thats kind of like asking someone what neighborhood they live in when you don’t know the city. I appreciate the interest and will give you the logline, but most of the time its met with the blank look that reminds me how much of a rhetorical question “What I write” usually is.
Words. I write Words.
“But what do you do for a living?”
Starve, mostly. Or, more realistically, I have a job and write when I can.
“Oh that’s lovely”
You can often hear the condescension drip like… Well… Condensation. I hope the inadequacy of that simile illustrates how few fucks I give.
But always it comes down to one essential question that people seem to have: “Do you make a living writing?”
No. I don’t.
Not many people do.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t write professionally.
I don’t know if I have enough experience or gravitas to speak eloquently on this matter. After all, it was only 3 years ago that I even began pursuing writing as a career. But it seems if I haven’t gotten paid for writing, there is an expectation that I should say that I am an “Aspiring Writer”.
But I’m not aspiring to anything, I’m working. Its my second and my third job. I am sure that a lot of other “Aspiring Writers” feel exactly the same way.
Why would we do such a disservice to the work we are doing by referring to our writing as anything other than professional?
The following is the second chapter of a work-in-progress novel. Please let me know what you think! First Chapter Here
“You’ve been going to meetings, right?” Misha Mala, chief of police. A beautiful woman, if that was your sort of thing.
“Went to my first last night” I was sitting down in the single chair that sat on the other side of her desk. She was standing. I wasn’t in a place of power.
“Is that why you were out in the middle of the sprawl at 7 in the morning?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about” The rest of the office seemed to buzz a little bit more than usual, the copiers overactive, the typing more frantic, the coffee more pungent.
“I have a problem, Detective Grant,” Usually she called me Michael but today she said the words like my mother using my middle name. A warning; beware who enter here. “30 seconds and you’ve lied to me twice. First off, you said that you’ve been going to meetings for the last 3 weeks. Second, I have dispatch telling me you called in a fire far from the edge of our jurisdiction. So what do I believe, Michael? I gave you a-” I had shaken my mug to see if the coffee was working and after staring at it for a while I realized it hasn’t kicked in yet. She noticed.
“You were saying, Chief Mala?” I usually called her Misha.
“Are you drunk?” One could dream.
“I just spent the last 10 hours driving. I’m just tired”
“You lie to me about the meetings, about where you were last night, what in the hell should I believe, Michael?” My gamble seemed to have worked, she used my name. This is an improvement.
“I’m not an alcoholic, Misha you know that. Now, I’ll go to your meetings, but I don’t want to be accused of- Look, I don’t get drunk, its not economical. It takes 3 Manhattans to get me buzzed, Misha, I can’t keep that up on my salary. If you want to give me a raise to help me become an-“
“Just shut up.” There was a smile. She’d never admit it, but there was. “You’ve got to do this. After midtown, you have to play the game. You shot an innocent woman” It was a bit unfair putting it like that. She lived and barely has a scar. Just the wrong place and wrong time. It wasn’t exactly fair for Internal Affairs to call it assault, though, the lady just got into my line of fire. “Its bad enough you don’t seem to care at all, I don’t need-“
“I thought the bad part was the fact that I was under stress and… seeing things? As you put it?” I was firing at a figure running from a murder scene. The body at the scene was barely recognizable. No ID was ever made because no body was ever found.
“Why did you lie to me about the meetings?”
“Changing the subject I see.” I continued before she figured out that I was the one who changed it first, “I don’t want to go to a grown man’s pity fest.” A moment later and the regret hit me hard.
“I can kick you out of this department so quickly the door tears your ass off” Her father was an alcoholic. Years of going to meetings had saved his life. What she had only admitted to me once was that it had saved hers as well.
“I’m sorry.” I was. “Misha, I don’t have anything in common with those people. I know I have to play out this political crap, I just didn’t feel like wasting my time in a place I don’t need to be”
“So why drive all night?” Why indeed.
I didn’t know the answer to that question and I should have. I got out of the meeting chock full of caffeine and nicotine, a chemical intake that passes for sobriety in those circles. “I started driving. Couldn’t sleep”. It was true enough, or at least the best answer I had.
“Christ, Michael.” She stopped, considering something for a second, “Look, we’ve had a big case come in. Can you handle it? Do you want it?”
Want is such a weak word. “Please God, give me something to do.”
“I could get used to being called God. Can you drive?”
I started to answer, and almost got half a breath out before-
“Don’t answer that-” She called out into the pit, “Hey Sergeant! Give Grant a ride to the Kraden site, let him sleep some in the back.”
God is such a weak word for what she is.
This one is too easy, I swear. I mean, you ask the question, what the hell can make small talk interesting. Well here it is:
Humans evolved as a social species. The development of language is its own fascinating bundle of fascination, but what strikes me about small talk is its purpose. If you meet someone at a cocktail party, especially someone you don’t know too well, you ask them about their job, their hometown, and, of course, the weather (This, in major cities, is relegated to traffic, the urban weather). People look at small-talk as useless dribble, information less nonsense we resort to when we have nothing good to talk about. I don’t usually resort to absolute, but those people are wrong.
A great deal of information about social compatibility is exchanged in Small Talk. It helps to look at small talk as Human Butt-Sniffing. Dogs, when they great each other for the first time. First: they will smell each other’s noses. This serves as an indicator of mood for both animals. Second, they will sniff each other’s asses. Why? to tell the gender, pack status, and cleanliness of the other dog. It is an exchange of social data. Humanity has evolved its small-talk to include the basic social data. Who do you know, what Friends, if any, do we share, how much money do you make, and what kind of a person are you (Do I want to be your friend).
While social posturing and small talk may seem useless, try approaching it with this in mind. It also helps those less socially adept to function in those group situations. When in doubt, ask questions and gather info. People not only love to talk about themselves, but the more social information that is shared, the more of a subconscious connection is felt.
Right. Everyone’s favorite topic. Homework. THe bane of the weekend and afternoon, scourge of the high-schooler, and joke of the undergrad. A large subject that has been beaten to death by the likes of my peers. So lets take a different tack.
The main component of learning a skill is repetition, and this is where the homework paradigm comes into play. Sheets of simple math, grammar, spelling. The hundreds of calculus problems that professors will assign to drill the basics into your head. This is where I will take my contention
Tell me if this sounds familiar: An elementary school teacher with 40 kids has 2 hours to teach the basics of adding fractions with different denominators, in between trying to calm the class down and an ill-timed fire drill, she only has 45 minutes to teach some very important fundamentals. After blasting through the materiel, she sends the children home with their math worksheet because she has another 4 furrow days to go this semester alone, and has to keep her curriculum up to speed, or they won’t be ready for the standardized test at the end of the year that dictates how much funding the school gets. So the children go home, not really understanding the materiel, and try to complete it, not knowing how. Some get help from their parents, but most don’t. They try to complete the homework, don’t know how, build bad habits by “Incorrect Repetition”. Learning a skill depends on correct repetition, incorrect repetition breeds incorrect skills.
This is a small diatribe on the fact that we need more educational funding, and some teaching methods need to be changed. But how are we supposed to change education?
Homework is necessary. We hate it (and some don’t), but its true. What needs to change is the nature of the homework. The current paradigm is to lecture in class, and to assign the repetition outside of class. This is effective as long as the students completely understand the method, which they often don’t. It might be more effective if the repetition was guided in class, allowing the students to perform the correct repetition. This also allows you to introduce the idea outside of class, developing critical thinking skills, and intellectual independence. To put it simply, Have a student learn outside of class as much as they do inside of class. Make intellectual exploration a habit outside of the classroom.
Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting (Three Panel), 1951
Take a moment to imagine what would happen if a painter from history happened upon this painting. Michelangelo might be intrigued, Van Gogh could be somewhat disgusted at its simplicity, Leonardo would be in awe of its technical proficiency. But all artists before the last 150 years would never have seen a painting like this receive recognition, much less be painted at all.
More than a 1000 years ago, it would have been nigh on impossible to achieve such a smooth and perfect white. The technology didn’t exist. Canvas was rough, oil paints were of poor quality, and keeping it such a pure white would have been next to impossible in most studios. In fact, going back to antiquity, the easiest way to achieve a smooth white was to polish the proper type of marble or granite to a sheen, and hope it doesn’t have any faults or mineral lines. This simple painting illustrates the technical proficiency of our time.
But this painting is more than that. It is an identifier of one of our species’ most unique qualities. Meta-thought. The analyzation of abstract ideas as their own entity. Art was about recreation and imitation, Landscapes, God-forms, theological idolatry. Then, suddenly, Artists started changing their view. They created altered versions of reality. Impressionists, surrealists, abstract artists. Then, somewhere along the line, the alteration of reality was surpassed by art that was completely independent of the world it inhabited. It didn’t mimic anything, it didn’t reference anything, it became art that reflected thought-form. Our reality became our mental construct of reality. And more than anything, this is what makes this very dull, very minimalist painting interesting. How in the world did we get from cave paintings to 3 white sheets of canvas?
Being an Office Receptionist
This isn’t interesting? I mean, it already seems to be to me, but let me spell it out for you, since you asked.
First, look at the prevalence of the service economy in this day and age. If you go back just 200 years, there wasn’t much of an economy around supporting the needs of others. You could carry packages or be a servant. Other skills, like service manufacture, required the creation of physical goods. Nowadays, there is an entire economic ecosystem of people’s whose job it is to coordinate, organize, or communicate. Office Receptionists, who write memos, and fill date-books, are just the tip of the iceberg. Someone from 200 years ago would look at jobs like that, and would likely laugh. “what kind of a job,” Says blacksmith joe, “Requires you to sit and talk to people all day”. But the fact is, without the service economy, we could not survive. As society becomes more complex, we have more of a need for people to organize it all, prevent it from collapsing. Office Receptionists form the basis of modern society.
But then we move on. Office receptionists are not only the cornerstone of modern society, but they also lead lives of intrigue. We are a society that thrives on social interaction, and, to a smaller extent, gossip. I am not lending any credence at this point to general archetypes, I am only using them because we as a society use them. Anyone who works HR or Reception in an office building has a better idea of what is going on in the office than anyone else in that building. This is because it is their job to deal with the people, to organize it all, and to know what to say to who to get what they need. Social information is power.
The receding Hairlines of Congressional Aids: A Study
Hair-loss, for some odd reason, is inextricably linked with stress. Which, when constantly getting texted pictures of a congressman’s junk on capital hill, is fairly high. Hair loss, in our society, is almost a sign of weakness. One can be bald and still be strong, and one can have hair, but if one is in between the two, we suddenly see weakness.
Its funny, in this way. We have had an African-American president, a Catholic President, and with any luck we are well on our way to having 2 X chromosomes sitting in the oval office. We haven’t yet elected an openly balding president. Can you think of one?
Well, there is Benjamin Franklin, I’ll admit. But he was elected in an era where wigs were the commonplace, and unlike most of the founding fathers, he was shoved far back to the 100 dollar bill, behind all of his peers and contemporaries. His name is even being redacted from history by a few southern and midwest states who don’t like his policies.
I am going to say something that is not said enough in the world.
Holy SHIT… thats cool.
Genuinely. Shit is cool.
Wait… even SHIT is cool. Digested food is damn cool, and by god, its poop. Poop is awesome!
And why is poop awesome? Because not only is it the product of billions of years of digestive evolution, it spawns ecosystems in and of itself. Dung beetles aren’t just a punchline, they are a species of beetle that thrives on the digested grasses and plants of the savannah. They gather up their stash in a ball, hop on their front legs, and roll their ball of dung hundreds and hundreds of feet back to their burrow. How in the hell did this behavior evolve? is this behavior learned, or has it been so repeated that it is coded into DNA?
What about our relation to poop? Look at how it has evolved into our culture. Toilets became a mainstay as early as Sumer. We separated our waste disposal from the rest of society. Put it in the corner or behind walls, following the behavior of most other mammals. Its funny that as Cities and Communities grew, the propensity to separate our waste from our streets decreased. We went from Rome, and their advanced system of toilets and baths, to the renaissance, where chamber pots were emptied into streets and baths were practically prohibited by the church. Then we made thrones for our pooping, books surrounding it. Our waste eventually became a joke, a psychological symptom or precursor to disorder, something people laughed at or were ashamed of. There are vast segments of our culture that have developed around this one single subject. Not only are there papers, articles, and novels written around the subject, It is a common and unifying factor for all cultures in the world. Each and every culture has a way they deal with their waste, and Each one has its own vast history and hugely complicated social norms.
And that is just the abridged version of Poop.
Take any subject on earth has Infinite Academic Resolution. You can continue choosing any part of any subject and pull up a wealth of information. If someone hasn’t already written something on it already, then someone will, eventually.
So, Tell Me. Why in the hell are you bored. Oh, I see you, sitting at home, surfing the internet, looking for something new. I see through your charade. You think there is nothing interesting?
Here is a Challenge: Send me some subject, any subject, and I will attempt to pull out something fascinating within it. Really. Send me ANYTHING, and I will find some small seed of inspiration in it. Even better, I will inspire some seed of interest in you. Try Me.