Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wii, football, flesh, comics, eBay and more more more ("how do you like it, how do you like it?")

A weird entry this week, mainly because I'm half decided against writing one at all. Not through any reason suggested in my comments from the last entry, or even because of the deadlines (which surprisingly, I'm just about on top of).

But simply because I don’t really know what to write about at the moment.

So this is going to be an organised, stream of consciousness thing, albeit tidied up, edited and probably fairly short because my mind is a little distracted – oh, and I'm listening to the Villa match at the moment (come on you Claret and Blues!)

- My newest column at WiiChat is up - http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/6046-failure-launch-within-realistic-expectations.html- , with another on its way in a day or so. So far they've been well received, which is a huge relief. I really enjoy writing them and I missed penning columns after a break from them earlier this year. Turning out weekly ones should be an interesting challenge, but I relish having weekly work in the same way I relish having to write a monthly script. Gets me off my arse, gets me to think more creatively under pressure and in turn, keeps me slightly saner than if I keep these things pent up. Writing is such a cheap form of therapy that it's almost a side benefit that I both love it and get paid for it. Although obviously, both those factors tend to go a long way in practical terms. Just as well, really.

- The most recent issue of my comic book series is written, and I'm happy with it, but I'm also s*it scared. I go through phases where I'm paralysed by the worry that the stories will be ripped to shreds by the readers, I didn’t do enough research, it's not entertaining, not enough action, not enough characterisation, continuity problems… all sorts. This feeling comes and goes, often dependant on various factors, but I'm over my scheduled panic attack for this month. The good thing about this fear is that it forces me to do much better afterwards, to write a better issue than the last and keep the quality as high as I can. Although my editors are happy (I think!) with things so far, so that's massively important and means a lot to me.

- Villa just went one down to Man City. Who scored? Our former striker, Darius Vassell, of course. You have got to be freaking kidding me. He ALWAYS scores against us since we sold him! ARGGGHH. Always!

- I'm ill right now. And it sucks. I wish it was something like man-flu, but in truth, it's actually something far worse. I think it's a throat infection of somesorts. It started out as a cold, then today I woke up with the inability to swallow without pain and the really weird feeling of what I can only describe as like having a piece of hanging flesh stuck in my throat that I cant swallow, but feels like it's going to pop out when I try to talk. Which in turn makes me want to retch. Not too comfortable. Talking isn’t fun, as I'm pretty much reduced to half sentences, semi retching, gutteral clicks, hand signals and nods. This is on top of the orange fluids coming from my nose on regular occasions, between sniffles (sorry, but I have to share this with someone – ha, now you CANNOT UNSEE WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN!). I'm consuming vast quantities of orange juice, Strepsils, Lemsip, throat spray and whatever else I can grab, although nothing I do can get around that feeling of having flesh stuck in the middle of your throat. At this point, man-flu would be a sodding blessing.

- Ebay. Annoys. Me. I swear, I cant be more clear about my sales on eBay, yet buyers still often insist on being outraged when I tell them shipping will take around 5 days, despite the fact I STATE IT CLEARLY ON THE ITEM DESCRIPTION. They often then go, "oh, I didn’t read it." What?! Is reading that difficult? Especially when it's information you're PAYING MONEY FOR? Honestly, I really do think I could put stale dog poop on for sale, label it as "£10000 for free! L@@k!", have a disclaimer at the bottom saying it's actually dog crap and people would still bid on it. Urgh.

- My Wii fund has now surpassed the price of the machine (yay) which means I'm entering 'how many credit notes can I get for an extra controller/game/whatever' territory. Although saying that, I've still not heard from GameStation that my pre-order is 100% confirmed, so I may be unlucky and miss out on launch day. I may stand a chance if I go to the midnight opening, but the idea of running around Brum at 12.30am, trying to get home on the nightbus with £200 worth of fancy new console goodness fills me with dread. So if I have to wait another week, so be it. I could probably do without the work distractions anyway. Although I'm supposed to be getting it so I can... do... work... related... reviews… ah. Yes. Dammit.

- Stop! Strepsils time!

- More articles are on their way to Boomtown and Sony PlayStation Europe.com come this time next week. Should my throat have not fallen out by then, I'll post links, probably in lieu of a proper blog entry.

- If we don’t equalise against Man City soon, I'm not going to be happy.

- The Strepsil nearly cut my tongue just now. Strepsil revenge is a spiky thing, indeed.

- We just conceed another goal. Really now, come on. This is getting stupid.

- This entry is OVER.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Conspicuous by its absence

No real update this week, sorry.

Kinda a 'good news', 'bad news' thing because while I don’t have the time to create a full entry for this week, the reasons behind it is simply because I have a ton of work going on that's going to keep me buoyant through the heavy Christmas present spending spree.

In the meantime, it's a cheap pimp my wares throwback (boyeee). Still cant show you anything from my commissioned comic series, which is a little frustrating as I'm pretty proud of the issue I'm just finishing up – it's quite a personal subject and a very quiet, human story that I hope readers will think about and be affected by. But while that remains under wraps, there's other stuff to throw at you in the meantime.

- I recently became a weekly columnist over at WiiChat.com (http://www.wiichat.com/). If the title/URL didn’t tip you off, it's a site about Nintendo Wii. Each week I talk about something Wii related and hopefully I'll get some reviews done when the console is released in a couple weeks. My first article can be read here (http://www.wiichat.com/nintendo-wii-articles/4804-curse-wii-ning-console-war.html), with a new column on the site every Friday/Saturday.

- My most recent reviews over at Boomtown (http://www.boomtown.net/en_uk/) are:
EyeToy Lemmings (PlayStation2): http://ps2.boomtown.net/en_uk/articles/art.view.php?id=12875

The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning (Nintendo DS): http://ngc.boomtown.net/en_uk/articles/art.view.php?id=12832

Ace Combat: The Belkan War (PlayStation2): http://ps2.boomtown.net/en_uk/articles/art.view.php?id=12823

- My more recent comic book reviews over at ComiX-Fan (http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/index.html) are:
Ultimate Spider-Man #101 review: http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=40514

New Avengers #25 review: http://www.comixfan.com/xfan/forums/showthread.php?t=40661

Right, back to work. And if you've not already participated in the previous blog entry (sitting lovingly below this one), please do if you have time.

Hopefully I'll be able to create a proper entry next week when the deadline heat cools off.

Cheers,

C.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Let me tell you a story…

I struck a dog last week.

Not a real dog, you'll understand. I may be cynical and slightly warped at times, but I'm not as bad as to actually hit a real animal. But in a videogame, I hit a dog, entirely intentionally.

Allow me to explain.

The videogame is Bully/Canis Canum Edit. Now, some of you may be flinching at this narrative right now, thinking sarcastically "well, unnecessary violent in a videogame, yeah, that's new". But again, let me explain. In the game, I was innocently doing a paper round.

Yes, a paper round. Never done one in real life, but here I was, peddling away on my bicycle, trying to earn a little money in one of Bully's many sub games, delivering papers. It's a loving homage to Paperboy, that age old game that you may remember. So I was doing quite well, managing to get some of my papers to their targets in the time limit, with 5 papers to go and plenty of time to do them.

Then I hear a growl.

And a bark.

Before I even realise, this dog (not sure of the breed, never really stopped long enough to check) was chasing me down the street, snapping at my heels. At first I tried to ignore it, but after a while it made delivering papers even more difficult and time was bearing down on me quicker than the canine who apparently wanted to eat my legs for no real reason. And it refused to give up, snapping and growling as I swerved in and out of traffic, avoiding cars and the occasional hoodlum wanting to turn my face into a Picasso.

Somehow, I managed to get my papers to their targets on time. Job done, cash earned.

But the dog would not leave me alone.

It continued to chase me regardless of where I went in the city or what I did. Unlike the local toughs who want a piece of my hide, this animal pays no attention to the blue-red flash of the law. So I decide to take a risk. Maybe it'll stop if I get off the bike.

Yeah.

No.

Scooby Doo was waiting for this moment. And promptly attacks me. Biting at my legs and taking a small slice of energy with the chunk of flesh. I run, but the dog reaches me easily, taking another bite. Then another. Then another. Then-

Slap.

I clock it one across its head.

It lets out a pathetic whimper and bounces to the ground.

And I feel HORRIFIED.

With one sound, one little realistic sample of audible pain, I'm made to forget my tormentor's constant hounding and instantly feel like a monster. The game has me pounding bullies into submission, slamming wood off their heads and flushing their melons into the toilet without remorse, yet as soon as I raise my hand to an animal in self defence, I vilify myself and make a mental note to not do it again. Which is exactly the point.

Bully is a game that teaches consequence of actions more so than many other games I've played. Flush fire crackers down the loo and the rushing explosion of water will horribly bidet anyone in the other cubicles. Offer abuse to authority or to anyone while authority is present, and you'll be instantly reprimanded and often punished for it. Even something as innocent as accidentally bumping into someone can have its consequences as students drop their books, fall over and do their best to either make you feel like a jerk or retaliate, making sure you're very careful about personal space in the future. The game's moral core is very strong, with every character in the story ending up being a better person by the time you complete it. Sounds Disney, sure, but it works. And it only works as well as it does because you're made to think about each of your actions throughout the game. Interactive moral cause and effect.

As a storytelling technique, it's incredibly effective and something I'm trying to learn from. The closer you bring the reader to personal response, the more they react. It's something I intended to do from the very moment you started reading this entry. No doubt, most of you reading saw the opening line and instantly reacted. Those who know me will be asking how or why, those who don’t know me will be wondering who exactly this cruel bastard is and why he has the audacity to put such information in the public domain.

Emotional empathy and response is one of the writer's greatest weapons. Regardless of the medium, whether it be film, book, game, comic book, music, whatever. Appealing to emotion(s) while getting you to ask whos/whats/whys/hows is the draw of any story, across any genre or medium.

If there's any particular movie, book, song, game, comic or whatever that stands out for you, please do post it here and a quick reason why it has that effect on you. It'll be interesting to see the sort of range there is for this sort of thing…

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Art of Fighting (a continuation of "Thems fightin' words")

Okay, slightly back on track after a busy week of running around and beating deadlines over the head until they rolled over. Got more deadlines coming up, so let's jump to it...

As previously promised, an example of the numerous issues which occur in writing a typical fight scene. Here's one I wrote about 10 months ago (as usual, copyright 2006 Corey Brotherson):

'Ketch moved almost as a blur, his axe appearing from the darkness of his cloak, blocking Teral's weapon, hooking it and sending the steel spinning away, clanging noisily off a distant rock. Before Teral could react, the full force of Ketch's handle caught him in the mouth, and then his throat, sending the man reeling in a staggered and broken gasp for air.

The two who had previously fought at the side of Ketch were already bearing down with their swords. No more questions. Incapacitation first.

As one, Fuller had pitched the flat of his sword high, while Gandasa swung hers low, the latter catching Ketch painfully on his hip as he arched his head backwards away from the former. He pitched a short kick downwards against the shin of Fuller, forcing his former partner's body to lurch downwards in response. Ketch went for a follow up kick to Fuller's stooped head, but was caught again by another flash of Gandasa's blade, this time drawing blood as it sliced up and nicked his chin.

Ketch immediately stepped back, bringing distance between him and the two, and allowing a vital second to bring his axe to bear. His tired eyes gazed over the spots where his opponents' armour was absent.

"Go home, Ketch," breathed Fuller. "Whatever you're going through, whatever's going through your mind, you're not thinking. Go home. Don’t throw your life away."

Teral had already struck before Ketch had realised it was a distraction, fists slamming hard into the back of his head, knocking him forward. Straight into the handle of Fuller's sword, drawing blood from Ketch's mouth as the tape-wrapped metal rammed into his cheek. He fell, but faster than anyone expected, thrusting his legs outward to bring down both Gandasa and Fuller, while using the length of his axe to trip Teral. With all four fighters in the dirt, Ketch turned and mounted Teral's chest, plunging the grip of his weapon hard on to the side of his victim's unprotected head. Teral's neck shunted and smashed into the ground. Consciousness left him with a crunching wet squelch.

Ketch tucked into a quick roll, straight over the limp body of Teral, and spinning around to correct the distance between him and Gandasa who was only just to her feet. He swung his axe towards her midsection, forcing a quick block with her sword, but leaving her vulnerable to a swift kick to the side, then back of her leg, buckling the Ranger to one knee. Fuller went to assist his partner, swinging his blade in a low arc to cut Ketch's exposed thigh, but Ketch spun his axe and swung, catching the helmeted Fuller squarely in his uncovered face with the joint and flat, jerking his head to the side with a damp crunch and sending him staggering backwards, clutching his nose which had exploded from the impact.

With Gandasa rising to her feet again, Ketch jabbed his fingertips hard down in the exposed area of her sword-arm, just below the elbow where no armour rested. Her hand spasmodically jerked open, forcing the immediate drop of her weapon.

Then he thrust his axe into her back. '

I wrote most of this on the fly, knowing how it starts and how it ends, but little idea of how it progresses. I just let the scene play out as naturally as I could, with the characters acting as I thought they would given the constantly changing circumstances. It made for fun, but slightly chaotic writing. I wish it were as easy as one person hitting another until one fell over, but there's all sorts of things to consider (on top of making it even more difficult by having 4 combatants in a 3-on-1 scrap):

-The hands they hold their weapons with (and whether they're ambidextrous or have a bias),

- The equipment used, how they use the environment, how each action creates a reaction (cause and effect),

- 'Fight logic' (for example, most people would use a weapon over their fists, not be thinking too much and reacting on instinct, if they have training, the relationship they share, how familiar they are with the rival, various fighting styles and how they match against each other, etc)


...all while trying not to bog things down too much as to keep the speed of the scene up.

It all turns into one giant virtual chess board, planning moves in advance and then watching the characters play them out, while you hope it works and entertains, all while keeping the story moving.

The main thing I wanted express was motivation. The scene revolves around Ketch wanting to do something that the other three don’t want him to do. But that's layered by the fact that one of those three (Teral) has no love for Ketch while Fuller and Gandasa are comrades-in-arms to him and are more willing to give him a chances to stop. That said, all are willing to forgo familiarity for practicality, knowing wounds and broken bones can be healed and the quicker you get the aggressor unconscious -something they are all willing and able to do- the quicker the fight will be over.

Having three-on-one was tricky, but there were obvious factors that made it easier. Teral is a closet maniac and harbours jealously tinged aggression against Ketch, which makes him less likely to hold off, while both Fuller and Gandasa work as team, so really it's a two and one vs. one situation. Notice that Ketch disarms the loose cannon first (closest in proximity) and tries to incapacitate him by going for his air-ways. When that doesn’t work, he just goes for plain ol' blunt trauma to the head. Same with Fuller, with an air-way strike to his nose – he doesn’t want to kill them, but follows the mantra that if a person cant breath, stand or see, they can't fight. Ketch also makes sure distance is his main weapon when he gets on the back foot and starts taking hits, particularly from his team mates.

Further to that, I personally feel that the fight has to mean something beyond it being a fight. It's often suggested that whatever you write, when you start a scene something has to change by the end of it or it's a waste. By that same respect, I always want a fight scene to involve mental/spiritual violence, as well as physical, to underline a change. In the context of the story, Ketch fights to release a prisoner that goes against his established principles. The fight is a flashpoint because he's:

a) Fighting his friends

b) Defying his superiors

c) Defying his social standing and the Establishment

As such, once the fight is over, nothing in the story will be the same for him. He either loses and is taken in to be questioned over his lack of loyalty, destroying everything he's worked for in society,

or,

he wins and loses his friends and high ranked place in society in a quest to discover his true history and background.

Having been forced into the fight in the first place, both outcomes now push the plot forward, but also render the character changed from herein, so the fight is everything to the progression of the story and will affect the characters for the rest of it. Which in turn means I have to be careful that nothing happens in the fight to contradict potential developments later on. I'm not against spontaneous plotting (I do a lot of it), but things can spin in unexpected directions very quickly without restraint and this story had (at the time) a tight word count to keep things in check. Tricky.

There are a ton of other factors as well, such as:

- It's raining during the fight and they're in a forest, so wet surface tension makes it difficult for them to strike as hard as they would under the circumstances (it also makes a cool dramatic visual for the reader).

- Weapons are used non-lethally at all times (erm, despite the last paragraph of the sample, which isn’t the end of the fight)

- To portray a modicum of realism, talk is kept to a bare minimum, only used for what appears to be distraction (or did Teral just take advantage of the situation?)

- If one move is done, the fighter does the best to follow it up, for example, a kick to the shins brings a person's body language down, at which point a knee/kick to the now bowed and lowered head would follow. As we're dealing with known and experienced warriors, they're likely to move in smooth motions where combinations are maximised to make their opponent move in the way they want. A vital element of fight training is prediction of your enemy's moves, part of which is forcing them into mistakes so you can capitalise.

It's all a bit crazy and makes me wonder just how long some of the more famous fight scenes took to organise (Lord of the Rings, anyone?). It's hard not to appreciate them once you realise the sheer amount of thought that goes into working out how one person can physically hurt another in the most interesting way possible.

Kinda sadistic, really. But isn’t that why we love the fight scene in the first place…?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Interlude - The Christmas shopping discount bonus

Before I continue with my blog on dramatic fighting, I stumbled across this and thought it would be best to share it:

http://www.hotukdeals.com/vouchers-static

This site has internet codes for vouchers from tons of online shops, ranging from Early Learning Centre and Amazon, to HMV and ChoicesUK. Just simply look up the shop you want, check out the code (they're often up to date) and do your Christmas shopping with a nice discount.

I've done half my shopping, sadly, but I'm sure some of you will find it useful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thems fightin' words...

You can count the number of actual, physical fights I've been in on one hand. With fingers to spare.

Throughout my life, when things have nearly come to blows but didn’t, I've been one of those people who have been lucky enough to either have the other person back down, talk my way out of it, or experience some miraculous event that changed the circumstances making the fight response in the other person to disappear. It's all a bit weird, but I'm not going to argue with whatever divine force keeping me upright.

So, what's this got to do with my writing?

Well, as I've started to write more, I've found that the more 'expected' things in life that I've little or no experience in, become an instant challenge when writing about them. It's an obvious point, but it's a huge one when faced with it. Not that real fights have much bearing on fictional, orchestrated ones. We've all seen the fight scenes in films, where most of the time, the participants have some form of martial arts training, give each other time to set up stances and perform whirling, majestic feats that make them look almost godlike in their aggression. We all know that rarely ever happens in real life. Hell, real fights are swift, nasty and extremely ugly, designed for putting down a person as quickly as possible before running off (or, if you prefer, strolling off arrogantly. Or worse, having someone pull you off them).

But naturally, there's very little of 'real' in fictional fight scenes. They may LOOK simple, but The Fight Scene is often one of the most difficult things to pull off well.

In film, a 5 minute fight scene (5 minutes! Think how many real, spontaneous fights you've seen last that long) can take weeks to get right, with planning, choreography, training and staging. Thankfully (?) I don’t have to do things to that extent, but it still takes a stupidly long time to plan and write something that you'll read in a quick several minutes. It's especially difficult for books and comic books because you're having to work out how long is justifiable for the fight without it leaving a sense of 'the realistic' – and by that I mean what the audience expects to be realistic for the medium, rather than real life realism (a book fight scene rarely lasts longer than a few pages if it has props like magic or weapons, a comic book fight can last across whole issues if there's cut-aways to other scenes and larger props like vast powers involved, same with anime – see Dragon Ball Z's several-episode-long fights). There are exceptions, like wars and such, but generally speaking if you're not cutting away from the fight at any time in the narrative, a fight will usually be fairly short as to not wear the reader out and stretch suspension of disbelief too much. An audience will happily accept graceful, slow motion, clean fights, but will start to get annoyed if the fighters are going at it for ages and not even breathing hard by the end.

I'll go through an example in my next post.