DNA Podcast 032 – Voice Acting with Kimlinh Tran

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In this episode, Rob and Don explore the possibilities of sound by talking with voice actress Kimlinh Tran about her experiences and perspectives gained voice acting in anime and video games. They talk about her efforts to improve her craft, why being near entertainment production centers is a must, and why recording walla is so much fun. All this, and why having a voice acting safe word is a must, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Podcast 012 – Pokemon Turns 20!

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In this episode, Rob and Don are joined by their friend Chad to discuss 20 years of Pokemon! They discuss how and why the phenomena has lasted so long, the origins of the game, and why a dark Pokemon movie is inevitable. All this, and a heaping helping of Nerd Rage is waiting for you in this, the 12th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

Five Nights at Freddy’s

While I’m not a gamer, I do enjoy watching play-throughs by other people from time to time because a good game really is a work of art. Case in point is Five Nights at Freddy’s, which is a jump-scare independent horror game that manages to be really good at what it does. The short version is that you’re a night-watchman at an animatronic-filled restaurant where the robotic entertainers get a little…mobile…at night, and if they reach you then well…Why not watch this playthrough by Youtube gamer Markiplier and find out?

Not safe for work language, and if you can’t handle jump-scares you might want to pass as well.

Rob

 

On the Hunt for Surivival Horror

After talking about Fatal Frame with some students earlier this week, I decided this weekend to go check out some Survival Horror games- games where the focus is on the psychological/mystery side of things instead of just shooting at monsters.

Unfortunately, Fatal Frame isn’t available for PC, and I didn’t want to spend much money, so I decided to see what was out there for free. There are a number of free indie horror games, and so I thought I’d check those out. Unfortunately, it may be a case of getting what you pay for.

The first game I tried out was Slender: The 8 Pages.

This was a “short”, experimental horror game someone did based on the made-up urban legend of the Slenderman. Basically, you’re in an abandoned forest/military base looking for 8 documents while being stalked by the Slenderman monster. The horror element comes from the fact that if you look at the Slenderman too long, you’ll die, so you’re being stalked by something you can’t look at even to see where he is. It does make the game a bit unsettling.

Unfortunately, I found it pretty tedious as well. There’s nothing but trees and buildings in the game, and after an hour of wandering around without finding a single page I got frustrated and turned it off. Yes, it was creepy, but there needed to be something a little more to it to keep my interest.

The next game I tried was DreadOut, which is basically an Indonesian clone of Fatal Frame.

The actual game isn’t finished, I think, but the demo is a full demo and it’s free so I gave it a shot. For an Indie game the production values aren’t bad, and it has nice atmosphere, but my god are the controls for the game annoying and frustrating. The 360 degree camera around the character is hell to control, and the character moves in relation to the camera, not the world. After dying and then maybe chasing away a ghost on my second time, I just gave up because I couldn’t take those controls any more.

Then I found the trailer for a new upcoming horror game by the creator of Resident Evil, called The Evil Within. Damn….Now THAT is survival horror! Hell, it’s terrifying just to watch, much less play!

The quest continues!

Rob

Quick Rant – The solution to sexism In video games!

My point exactly! DIYOFS!

Getting your Readers over the Infodump Hump!

“A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down- in the most delightful way.”– Mary Poppins

In some of the writing forums I frequent, a very common situation comes up. A new (usually young) writer will come on, and ask if people will look at the first couple chapters of their new science fiction or fantasy novel and tell them if those chapters are any good.

Nine times out of ten (and I’m being generous with that statistic), the answer is that the chapters in question are complete crap. One of the more common reasons for this (especially with Sci-fi and Fantasy stories) is that usually the writers are usually so in love with their “unique and special” setting that they can’t wait to tell the reader all about it. So, inevitably the first couple chapters of what they write are basically all about the setting: sometimes pages and pages of setting/background material that go on and on in excruciating detail.

Sometimes, if they’re feeling clever, they’ll try to make it more interesting by framing it in a conversation, or have a storytelling character relating it to others, or maybe structure it as a briefing of some kind. But, while this can (rarely) work, it still has a fundamental flaw in it- the writer is still first and foremost dumping setting information on the reader.

I know where this comes from- video games. Video games, which don’t have a lot of time for build-up and want to get the player into the action ASAP, love to have a detailed history/setting description at the beginning of the game to set the scene before the action starts. And in games, it generally works fine, so young writers often make the mistake of thinking it will work in a novel too.

It doesn’t, and there’s a good reason why.

In a video game, we sit through (or click through) the background/setting information because we know we’ll be rewarded for it. We know that once this is done, we’ll get some cool cut-scenes, and then be immersed in interactively battling enemy hordes until  4am. That’s the promise that a video game comes with, and it’s a clear reward waiting for us once we’re done learning about the setting and situations. (Keeping in mind that most video games are about setting and situations, not character to begin with!)

But, what about a novel?

What reward does the reader know is waiting for them after they get through all this setting and background information? A video game says, “read this, and I’ll let you kill aliens”. Which is a pretty good motivation! What does a novel say to its reader? What guarantees can a novel (especially one by a new writer) give that there is actually something worth reading here once this infodump is finished?

The answer is- none.

When I read the first chapters of a novel, unless I’ve had previous reviewers reassure me that it’ll be worth it, I have no idea whether or not this journey is one I want to take. I have no evidence that I’ll like it, or a reason to keep reading. So, when I hit a pile of boring information that I don’t care about, or find interesting, I put the book back on the shelf (or delete the sample) and I go looking for something else that can hold my attention better. As a reader, my time is limited, and I’m not going to spend it reading crap.

So, how do experienced writers get readers to not only read background/setting information, but actually love it and want more? How do you get people to consume chapter after chapter of detail about Middle Earth, or the list of all the Stark Bannermen in Westeros for twenty pages?

Just like in video games- you need to offer the reader a reward.

The reward in video games is time spent “in action”, and in books it’s pretty much the same- what the reader wants is interesting characters doing interesting things. Once a reader is hooked on the characters and events of a story, they will read through huge amounts of extra material just to get more of that reward they crave.

If you want to see a perfect example, go read a Dan Brown novel like the The Davinci Code, or Angels and Demons. Brown’s books sell millions of copies, and each chapter of one of Brown’s meticulously researched books follows the same formula- 1 to 3 pages of character action, then 5-7 pages of information about some piece of geography, history or art, and then 1 or 2 pages of character action ending on a cliff-hanger to make you want to read the next chapter.

Now, Brown’s case is pretty extreme (he’s writing textbooks wrapped in a plot), but if you pay attention you’ll see that almost every successful writer is doing this. They’re alternating interesting dialogue and character action with less interesting (but necessary) background and setting information as a way to keep the reader motivated to read and keep reading even the slow stuff. The reader knows that if they can just get through the exposition, they’ll be rewarded with more of what they really want.

This is where most beginning writers fall flat when they start writing.

They put the less interesting stuff first, and then expect it to somehow hook readers. It’s a bit like giving someone something sour before you give them something tasty, and still expecting them to keep eating.  Does that make any sense? No. And that’s why it doesn’t work.

The truth is that readers don’t care about settings or history, or art, or any of that stuff, unless it’s directly connected to a character they DO care about. So, whenever you write, you always need to start with story and character, and then once you’ve got them hooked, you can start to introduce less interesting bits of information that they need to know, but will be reluctant to read. Even Dan Brown and George R.R. Martin spend many chapters setting up the characters and situations before they start their history lessons.

Final tips:

  • Generally wait at least 4-5 chapters before you try any kind of information dump on your readers of a new novel. Only tell the reader what they absolutely need to know to follow the story, and save the detailed information for later when they’re hooked and want to know what happens next.
  • The bigger/harder the information will be to digest, the bigger the reward you need to offer the reader to get through it. A few paragraphs about a mining colony your space adventurers are about to visit doesn’t require more than general interest in what will happen to our heroes when they get there. Three chapters about the history of the royal family of Exotia XVI and their love of rare Terisan Opera sung by space slugs will probably require a main character about to die to motivate a reader to get to the end.
  • Don’t be afraid to break big pieces of information down into little ones, and scatter them throughout the story. Tell the reader what’s needed, when it’s needed. Don’t overwhelm them without a good reason, and a good payoff.
  • Remember that what’s interesting to you as a writer isn’t always interesting to your readers. You might think the inner-working of the Magnos-Tsaichovski Stardrive and its effects on space warfare are fascinating, but your reader may think it’s the most boring thing ever unless it’s presented at a time when it’s relevant to the story.
  • Never forget that a reader is always asking the question- “Why should I keep reading this?” Make sure you always have a good answer.

Project Play- Aftermath

Today I attended Project Play, London’s first (or is that most recent? not sure) gaming convention of the universal sort. What I mean by that is that there wasn’t just Role Playing Games, or Tabletop Games, or Electronic Games, or Console Games, or Mobile Games, or Tablet Games or Classic Games or even Card Games- there was all of them! And more!

Fanshawe’s Student Union building was filled with game sellers, producers, and players. It also played host to Doll fans, Cosplayers, and Anime fans, who each had their own little areas, and other oddities like the Personal Computer Museum. (Which made me feel quite old as I looked at all the consoles I used to play as a kid, like the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and the Commodore 64. I remember when the Vic 20 was new!) A nice collection of different smaller fandoms all under one roof that wouldn’t normally have enough people for a con, but could collectively benefit from being together.

I arrived about halfway into the event and I spent my time flitting from place to place and visiting with different people I knew, but mostly I spent time at the Forest City Go Club table playing teaching games of Go with Matt and Mark (who were kind enough to give up their day to man the table). When I first got there the club had been relegated to a back room, but eventually we managed to get moved to a more central location between a number of video game producers and things really started to hum! Quite a few people were interested in learning about Go, and with luck we made a few new Go fans. (And maybe club members! We’ll see in the coming weeks!)

I’d say somewhere between two and three hundred people came out to Project Play today. That’s just a guess, but by the afternoon that place was really moving, and it was a joy to see. There have been attempts to hold Comic and Sci-Fi conventions in London before, with varying degrees of success, but none of them really brought together so many diverse groups and done it so well.

I hope that there’s another Project Play next year, and that it’s bigger and better advertised than this one! I think they’ve only tapped their potential, and will just get bigger and better from here!

Rob

Portal: No Escape – YouTube

Portal: No Escape – YouTube.

A cool short film based on Portal, a game I really should get around to playing one of these days!