Journal

Chaos, Honor and Metal Gears: On the unique failure of video game narratives

Snake, maybe

Solid Snake. Or maybe Big Boss. | Labeled for noncommercial reuse by Google Image Search, 11 July 2015.

As I continue with Long September, my novel, and continue to await word from my employment of whether the fiscal cliff we have found ourselves plunging over will mean I won’t be paid until we un-plunge ourselves, I blow off steam by playing old video games and listening to the Wu Tang Clan. Last night’s success was the defeat of a truly ancient foe of mine: Metal Gear Solid. As in 1, as in ©1998 by Konami Computer Entertainment Japan for the PlayStation. Yes, I am OG (original genome).

Whenever I boot up a truly old game, something of the original experience is lost, and I don’t just mean because I’m playing it on a backwards-compatible PlayStation 2 hooked up to a high-def television that doesn’t give any fucks about its aspect ratio and anti-aliasing. This time, what was lost was any sense of awe I had about the story. Come with me on this sad journey as I talk about how a tale that once held me enraptured has become something I mash the “X” button to skip. Read more…

Speak of the Bronson

Death_wish_movie_poster

Charles Bronson in “Death Wish.” Promotional poster image. | Courtesy of Wikipedia.org. This image is displayed under Fair Use.

 

The AV Club must have heard of my recent squawking about Death Wish, because they just hit the full series with the sledgehammer of a close reading. And of course, they did better than I did. Check it out.

Ken Plays Outlaws, Part Two

I’m still yakking about Outlaws, which still stands the test of time as #2 in the Top Two Western Video Games That Have Ever Been Made. Seriously, game industry, I’m pretty sure people would buy more of these. This video does a quick tour of Levels 1 and 2 and sums up Level 3 with the words “Ah, fuck, a train level.”

“Problematic,” and The Ignorance Of It

Funeral car

A train coach based on Abraham Lincoln’s funeral car is restored in Springfield, Ill. for the sesquicentennial of his death. | May 2015, Kenneth Lowe

 

So, I had originally meant to post about why Westerns are generally a funny thing for a guy like me to like. I’d also like to tie it in a bit to some of the distressing stuff I hear from the modern fandom these days, and by that I mean the white guys who I grew up identifying with.

You’ve read about Gamergate and you possibly also heard about how some misogynists hijacked the Hugo Awards because they didn’t like that some women justifiably won a bunch of them last year. The controversy has become way too politicized for bizarre reasons. If you go read Breitbart’s site, you’ll find conservative guys claiming that feminists hate games and if you go to Gawker, you’ll be convinced all Gamergaters are not-so-secret rapists. Even one of the online comics I read at The Escapist Magazine treats the subject lightly, while the site itself, if you look, advertises the works of Vox Day, the fellow who is in a sense behind the great Hugo heist, and who blogs about how gay marriage is bad and insists that a bakery taking backlash for refusing a gay couple a cake is an attack on religious liberty.

How is all this tied in to Outlaws and Westerns? Bear with me. Read more…

The Revelation of Kung Fu

“Seconds Cover” by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Original image here. | Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

 


Thanks to my brother and his wife for their Christmas/birthday gift of Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, he of Scott Pilgrim fame. It’s not nearly as epic a read (in the sense of length), but it had things to say that resonated with me. Sometimes you need that more than another paperback about dragons and magic. (Which I’m also currently reading, guiltily.)

I needed a break from writing about stuff for the past month, since it has been pretty crazy. I have work-coming-to-an-end-stress, family stress, holiday stress, and creative stress, so the blog just needed to not happen for a bit. I plan to unveil a bit more about what I wrote about my grandfather in the near future, but for right now, I am much more excited to be embarking upon a new project with somebody who has been a great help to me in crafting a keepsake for friends. I have to mention something about it here, because it is just plain ludicrous the degree of labor I’ve put into it.

A great long while ago, I ran a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with some good friends downstate. We had a ridiculous amount of fun, and I even met several new people through it. Since it came to an end a couple of years ago, I have felt nostalgia like no other. In part to give a keepsake to my badass party members and in part to assuage these yearnings, I slowly set about creating a book of the campaign. Key to this was the addition of some art. Sadly, none of our players really drew any of us while we were playing, so in addition to sketches of maps and notes I’d made about the adventure already, I figured I should commission some art revealing our characters.

I’d love to reveal some of the art I used, but the fact is I paid for single-use for it and I don’t want to make it available to anybody on the internet who can Google Image search. The point, however, is that I partnered with a few great artists to illustrate the work, including one who I am pleased to say I will be working with on an upcoming project.

Read more…

Up and down

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

It has been a trying past couple of weeks. I plan to write a bit more about it very soon, but my grandmother passed away last week. It set me on a long period of rushing back and forth, which was compounded by the wedding I then had to go to the day after her funeral and a looming medical procedure. Through it all, writing has fallen to the wayside, but I’m hoping to find the endurance to get back into it this weekend. More updates to come.

NaNoWriMo Day 30 – Victory!

And so, it is complete. I have defeated NaNoWriMo for only the second time in my life. Yesterday I rather fittingly decided to hunker down at the same Panera Bread where I beat it a day early all the way back in 2008, though this was one of the few times when I could have done so over the past few years – I’ve been all over the place since then. Last November found me in Colombia, the several before that found me in Central Illinois as a reporter. The very first one I defeated happened just as Barack Obama won election to the presidency the first time, and now here we are miles into his second term.

I have a few observations about this go-round. Firstly, I feel okay about what it is I wrote. I have the distinct feeling some things will ultimately be done away with, but I also feel as if the greater majority will remain. This writing also helped me get through a deeply muddy time in the book, when literally every character is moving in concert and it becomes difficult to keep them all straight. That is going to be a major difficulty moving forward, but it’s also important that it be done: The story is partly one of a town, and not just the three main characters. Some advice a girlfriend (at the time) told me was that I should peel back the other stuff, and she’s right. I think I overdid it in some scenes, but cutting is easier than producing, and if we must cut later, then we will.

Writing this in concert with reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub was also weirdly instructive in a few ways:

Read more…

NaNoWriMo Day 27 – I am not thankful for this novel

winters5

Authority changes hands. | Kenneth Lowe via Notegraphy

Okay, I won’t bitch any further about hating writing this thing. After an evening where I lost my lead again because I dicked around, had a friend over, and couldn’t be bothered to remain conscious long enough to write more than 1,000 or so words, I was finally able to power through and produce a good day’s writing today.

Part of that was circling back and adding in a clarifying scene in the past, one which should pay off here in the future in a little bit. While what I am writing now seems scattershot, it really is clarifying the whole book to me. These 50,000 words, you’ll notice, are going to be somewhat more than a quarter of what I’ve written over the past several years so far, and they’re solidifying the imagery, some of the characters and their relationships, and really setting up the bad guys, who don’t get much detail in the first chunk of the book. All told, while I worry that I may have created a jagged mess. I’ve also dumped on a lot of raw material that I am totally willing to rework.

Read more…

NaNoWriMo Day 25 – In which I can’t believe it is Day 25

One of the few lines I can remember verbatim from my own damn book. | Kenneth Lowe, via Notegraphy

I keep composing these on my phone instead of when I have my manuscript in front me, so the result is I haven’t posted excerpts lately. Last night was the perfect exemplar of how stunningly tired I am of the whole enterprise – I wrote maybe 1,000 words, just enough to be over the Day 24 goal, and then called it a night.

It did not help that the heat in my apartment is out and that I could barely think straight it was so cold. I am resolutely sick of Chicago, sick of a winter that hasn’t even properly begun yet, and sick of hearing of the awful violence in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury as I simultaneously get grief from family members about the possibility of going back to Colombia after this is all over. Which country is more dangerous, I have to wonder?

As I compose this, I am on my way to an official function where the president will be speaking. I am excited, but also exhausted, and an ice-cold apartment and this relentless novel await me when I do finally get home from this thing that is only going to start at 4:30. (Update: Turned away at the door… it was so packed they were declining VIPs.)

Fatigue, I have been assured, is a real thing when it comes to writing. More and more lately, I have come to appreciate that writing is work and not solely diversion. I am fiercely determined to finish though, so tonight I am going to push back ahead.

And then tomorrow I’m going to my fucking mom’s house, where the godshitting heat works, possibly until this tedious fucking return to my blighted homeland is blessedly over with.

NaNoWriMo Day 21 – Viva la grind

image

So Cuban, Andy Garcia is playing on the TV. 90 Miles Cuban Cafe, Chicago, Nov. 2014 | Kenneth Lowe

I had a truly grueling writing experience last night, literally lying in bed with my eyes closed and composing 2,000 words I am truly surprised make any sense at all.

This was after a flurry of activity at work and a long train ride home. Those scenes were mainly filling in earlier parts that have only now come clear to me as the writing begins to shape this prolonged second act of the story. So the result was, I squeezed scenes into the middle rather than tacked more stuff onto the end. This lead to truly perilous situations where I was scrolling through past sections adding stuff that had never been there before. Somehow, it made sense when I opened my eyes to look at it.

I am now imperiling my 200-word goal lead, which I only won by writing above goal for three straight days, by going to a writer’s workshop. I have never been to it and know only one person there, and there is a long train ride ahead of me at the end of the evening and it sure would be nice to play Diablo III.

Sigh…