Mystery in video games

Some very smart worldbuilding-related musing in these two articles by Tevis Thompson. This one is about mystery in video games and storytelling, building on this earlier essay which pretty extensively discusses the lack of same in the Legend of Zelda franchise.

Mystery does not arise from the vague, the convoluted, the simply confusing. It’s not a fog, some atmospheric condition. Mystery is about something. It has content. Though not videogame ‘content’.

Mystery is not a style. It’s not wallpaper or mood lighting or a gravel-voiced narrator. It can’t be added in post-production. It can’t be sprayed on, like a tan.

Tevis and David Hellman have a very cool graphic novel project currently up on Kickstarter.

Looper interview

Great interview with Rian Johnson, the director of Looper, which is great and in theaters now.

The minute you say “science fiction,” the question of world creation comes up. Was that something you were thinking about when you were writing?

No, that was the production designer. When I was writing I was really just disciplining myself to focus on getting the narrative as tight as possible. To tighten the screws on everything, and to make sure that it ticked and that it ran from start to finish and that it had a solid spine.

And so I was focused on that and I wasn’t even thinking about the world-building elements at all. Which I think was good because it meant the designers and I just worked together. Every design decision, it wasn’t preconceived, it came out of the needs of the story. And so making the world seem like such a desperate place was a way of accentuating that feeling of “you better hold on to your slice of the pie, or else it’s destitution,” you know?

Tags: looper

Reblogging an answer from my art blog.

Q: Hey, I’ve got a world building question for you. How does one properly name a city, in either a fantasy or non-fantasy context? How do you avoid the trap of trying to sound oh so clever about your naming scheme? How do you make it feel real and authentic without sounding like a load of gibberish and gobbledigook? Should a cities name define its character or should the character define its name in fiction? I have so many questions but I have no idea where to start!

A: If you’re going the invented-language route for naming things, study language. Look at how different languages are written (I mean, how they’re transliterated into latin letters) and how they sound, and how you can tell them apart aesthetically. Keeping a series of names confined to a limited number of sounds suggests they’re linguistically related, and generally feels more believable: even if the number of sounds is limited far more than any real language’s phonetic scope. Hence, in Vattu: Sahta, Calirus, Morrian, Arrius, Tarria, Dorranos all sort of “match.” And Junti, Surin, Kurina, Timín, and Orti likewise.

Worry less about how the name defines the character of the city, and more about the city’s role in your narrative, and how it’s important that the reader/viewer/player begin his/her understanding of that city, and work with that. With a lot of these sorts of questions, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking that you’re actually making a Real World, when actually you’re making a complicated storytelling tool that looks enough like a Real World to suspend disbelief.

Tags: question

Clarion 2012 writing advice

Let’s try to get this thing started up again with some quick links and question-answering. I just found this great roundup of unattributed advice on writing from the Clarion Writing Workshop, much of which is invented-world-related. Some relevant excerpts:

“In-cluing, AKA Heinleining, is when you don’t infodump, you just show the tech or whatever working.”

“When we don’t understand what’s happening, or the world we’re reading, we fill in the blanks from what we already know—some other fictional world that seems pretty close. This can be dangerous, so you have to give people enough information to convince them otherwise.”

“A nice way to make me “buy” complex technology and a rich world is to just give me a great character whose dilemma shapes and filters the world, and focus on that.”

Tags: clarion link

Some questions

Answered some questions for Mark Penman for his dissertation. Some excerpts here will have to suffice for the Only Thing I’ve added to this blog in over a month.

Q-In the about section of your site you say that the website is a home to comics about your world Overside. Was that the intention evolve as you wrote Rice-Boy?
When I started Rice Boy I didn’t have much of a conception of the overall world, and I didn’t think I would do anything else with it. But going through that story, and kind of assuming a deep history was there and playing with it, led me to start thinking of the world as something bigger than one story: a sort of aesthetic, metaphorical tool I could use in other stories. And now I’ve done a lot of stuff in this setting, but even then I’m kind of rebuilding it each time: starting with an outline of the world and its history as I’ve set it up, and tweaking the details and the overall aesthetic to work better with the particular story I’m telling.
Q-Your stories include very well defined cultures and religions. Do you draw much inspiration from cultures of our world?
I definitely do; I try to get ideas from wherever I can take them. Often this means being inspired by somebody else’s fantasy culture, setting, or idea, and then following that into the real-world historical inspirations for it. But yeah I’m very interested in how culture and religion and mythology work, and the roles they play in human life. Vattu is sort of about that, and about how these elements work to build a person’s sense of identity.
Q-How much consideration do you put into the art and symbolisms of the cultures you create? Would you say that the artworks of a culture are important in defining the look of their settlements and fashions?
I do think a lot about the art and architectural styles of different cultures I’m making. Particularly in Vattu, there will be several different cultures that I need to keep distinct and clear. This, to me, is usually a question of emphasis: how can I stylize the visual style of this culture to isolate and emphasize the central ideas that I want to communicate about it? This includes representational art, buildings, furniture, clothing, everything. I’ve just gotten to the part in Vattu where they get to the city Sahta. There is a definite “Sahtan style” which emphasizes austerity, sturdiness, boldness, and spare, geometric ornamentation. I think you can see this in much of the design of the place.
Q-Your stories often centre on conflicts, be it between characters or from environmental influences or disasters. Do you see conflict as an important part of creating a world or would you say that it only aids storytelling?
Here is the secret: worldbuilding is just a convoluted sort of storytelling. There’s a tendency to look at it as actually literally building a world, but I think a more valuable approach is to look at it as developing a tool for storytelling. You aren’t making a static, detailed substrate to put stories on top of; you’re making a dynamic setting which is part of the story itself.

Tags: evan dahm

Show and Tell: Embassytown

By Evan Dahm.

Read the rest of the Show and Tell series here. Read the introduction to the series here.

Just finished Embassytown, China Miéville’s newest novel. It’s pretty significantly different from Perdido Street Station (about which I’ve written another Show and Tell article here) and The Scar, the only others of Miéville’s books I’ve read, and is another great example of solid worldbuilding. I promise this is the last I’ll be raving about how great this guy’s work is for a while; I’ve been on a kick…

As usual I’ll try to avoid spoilers! But the way in which the details of the setting are conveyed is a very important part of the book, so it will be impossible to avoid spoilers!

Read More

weeklywritingchallenges:

weeklywritingchallenges:

Weekly Writing Challenge #4 (Oct 3rd - Oct 8th): Worldbuilding Challenge Part 1: The Setting
Pick any color you like and think up a world or place of that color or similar to what the color makes you feel.
You can make it as descriptive as you like. Give your world a history. How does the place look? Tell us what lives there. What the climate is like. Do our laws of physics apply?
You can mention the people that live there, but keep in mind that they will also be part of next week’s challenge. So if you can, wait until then to create the inhabitants of your world.
Once you are done, go to submit your works. And as always, questions and suggestions are always welcome.
Have fun.
-Yasim

Reblog to tell you that the deadline shifted to the 9th of October due to my schedule opening up considerably. Nevertheless, that’s not long until this challenge ends!

Just saw this two days before the due date! Thought you folks might be interested!

weeklywritingchallenges:

weeklywritingchallenges:

Weekly Writing Challenge #4 (Oct 3rd - Oct 8th): Worldbuilding Challenge Part 1: The Setting

Pick any color you like and think up a world or place of that color or similar to what the color makes you feel.

You can make it as descriptive as you like. Give your world a history. How does the place look? Tell us what lives there. What the climate is like. Do our laws of physics apply?

You can mention the people that live there, but keep in mind that they will also be part of next week’s challenge. So if you can, wait until then to create the inhabitants of your world.

Once you are done, go to submit your works. And as always, questions and suggestions are always welcome.

Have fun.

-Yasim

Reblog to tell you that the deadline shifted to the 9th of October due to my schedule opening up considerably. Nevertheless, that’s not long until this challenge ends!

Just saw this two days before the due date! Thought you folks might be interested!

The Big Read: A Wizard of Earthsea

There’s a month-long event going on in New York City in celebration of Ursula K. Le Guin’s fantastic fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea. A full schedule is here.

Show and Tell in Game of Thrones, Way of Kings.

By Evan Dahm.

George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings both take place in settings with seasons that work very differently from reality. With that convenient point of comparison, let’s look at how the two books go about introducing this item to the reader.

A Game of Thrones:

"You are a young man, Tyrion," Mormont said. "How many winters have you seen?"

He shrugged. “Eight, nine. I misremember.”

"And all of them short."

"As you say, my lord." He had been born in the dead of winter, a terrible cruel one that the maesters said had lasted near three years, but Tyrion’s first memories were of spring.

"When I was a boy, it was said that a long summer always meant a long winter to come. This summer has lasted nine years, Tyrion, and a tenth will soon be upon us. Think on that.”

"When I was a boy,” Tyrion replied, “my wet nurse told me that one day, if men were good, the gods would give the world a summer without ending. Perhaps we’ve been better than we thought, and the Great Summer is finally at hand.” He grinned.

The Way of Kings:

"The others cry at night," she said. "But you don’t."

"Why cry?" he said, leaning his head back against the bars. "What would it change?"

"I don’t know. Why do men cry?”

He smiled, closing his eyes. “Ask the Almighty why men cry, little spren. Not me.” His forehead dripped with sweat from the Eastern humidity, and it stung as it seeped into his wound. Hopefully, they’d have some weeks of spring again soon. Weather and seasons were unpredictable. You never knew how long they would go on, though typically each would last a few weeks.

The wagon rolled on …

I am hesitant to put forth or support ANY absolute rules in storytelling or art, but I think it is obvious that Martin’s introduction of this variance in setting is elegant, story-embedded, and clear, while Sanderson’s is clunky, distracting, and unsubtle.

In the first excerpt, we get a huge amount of information about the setting’s seasons: they last varying amounts of time. They are thought to be predictable by maesters, but there’s contention on that point. Nine years is considered a very long time for a summer to last. The characters of Tyrion and Mormont and their relationship are developed throughout this conversation, as is a bit of more textural, background stuff regarding cultural ideas surrounding the seasons. This is all within the text of the story and within the events of the story. We are taught this information without really even being taught it.

In the second excerpt, we are given a brief aside explaining outright how seasons work. The characters are not really seen to interact with this information, and it’s not as “embedded” in the text as the previous excerpt, making it seem less relevant to what’s going on in the story, and therefore much more easily forgotten by the reader, and much less conducive to immersion in the story. This is an attempt to teach the reader an important fact about the setting, but it’s an attempt made so straightforwardly and overtly that it is far less successful than Martin’s.

This is a point I’ve been trying to make: no matter how gorgeous, elaborate, and inspiring your SETTING is (and Sanderson’s is definitely all of those things!), it all really comes down to how it is CONVEYED.

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Google’s logo was changed today for Jorge Luis Borges' birthday. He is one of my favorite writers and has a story which might be of interest to worldbuilders, called Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. The entire text is online here (y en el español original aquí), but if you are rather inclined to buy a book of his short stories, not a single one will disappoint.